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Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight accuses Milton of suppressing minority voters


Public comments flooded Milton City Council in the wake of a coalition letter from Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight Action group, alleging disenfranchisement of Black and brown voters. 

MILTON, Ga. — Earlier this month, Fair Fight Action published a coalition letter about voter access in Milton, and the city’s residents had something to say about it.

Fair Fight Action is a national voting rights organization rooted in Georgia and founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. It is backed by nonprofits, like the New Georgia Project, which works to register, civically engage and empower “New Georgia's” majority Black, brown and young voters, and by Common Cause Georgia, an advocacy organization that promotes public participation in government to ensure that public officials and institutions are accountable and responsive to citizens.

The letter holds the view that the Milton City Council has directly limited voting access for Black and brown voters, with its May 1 resolution. The measure established two polling places on Election Day: Milton City Hall and the Milton City Park and Preserve.

The decision primarily affects precincts ML05, ML06A and ML06B in the city’s southeast corner, an area that Appen Media found to have most of the city’s Democratic voters.

The three precincts also have the highest number of Black and brown voters, according to the letter, published more than a week after Appen Media’s findings. It says that 30 to 50 percent of this area’s voters are people of color.

A member of Fair Fight’s data team said he used voter files for registered voters in each precinct, which includes demographic information. In the three precincts combined, 38.4 percent of voters are people of color.

Not everyone is on board with Fair Fight’s conclusion, though.

“Unfortunately, Mayor Jamison's prepared statement and amended proposal has provided Appen Media with their talking points for the unfair article in last week's Milton Herald,” Milton resident Nia Cortsen said during public comment at the May 15 Milton City Council meeting. “Their article was the impetus behind the Twitter post from the Stacey Abrams very partisan Fair Fight Action group and four other divisive political organizations.”

Mayor Jamison read a prepared statement at the May 1 council meeting, advocating for a third polling location at the Public Safety Complex in District 3. But his motion failed to garner a majority.

“I am confident that any reasonable individual would agree that equal opportunity and equal access to all citizens is being provided,” Cortsen said.

Limited voter access

The coalition letter says the lack of a polling location in District 3 exacerbates the disproportionate wait times that Black and brown voters already face.

According to 2020 analysis, co-published by ProPublica and Georgia Public Broadcasting, Georgia's voter rolls have grown by nearly 2 million people, yet polling locations have been cut statewide by nearly 10 percent. The growth in registered voters has largely been fueled by younger, non-White citizens, the study says.

In the nine core Metro Atlanta counties, the analysis says four out of five new voters are people of color. It also says the same area holds nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38 percent of the polling places.

“The growth in registered voters has outstripped the number of available polling places in both predominantly White and Black neighborhoods,” the report says. “But the lines to vote have been longer in Black areas, because Black voters are more likely than Whites to cast their ballots in person on Election Day and are more reluctant to vote by mail, according to U.S. census data and recent studies.”

Organizations within the coalition were contacted by concerned citizens in the city, said NGP Policy Director Stephanie Ali, but had been monitoring the idea of self-run local elections that had spread through North Fulton municipalities earlier this year.

“People who have everything else going on in their life — kids and work and any other distraction going on — may not have the capacity to go a little bit further across town to access one of these two polling places,” Ali said.

In an interview, a Fair Fight representative said the group will continue to educate Milton citizens about what’s going on and directly advocate on their behalf to the mayor and City Council regarding discriminatory impact.

Residents petition the city

Other speakers criticized the partisan turn of Milton’s municipal election process May 15, with a keen eye on Jamison’s outlook.

Milton resident Brett Chromi said he didn’t “escape” from California to Georgia to “get woke policies dictated to [the City Council] from a Marxist organization like Fair Fight.”

“There’s no support for a woke mayor or a woke council in Milton,” Chromi said. “Get your act together, Peyton, and start being a leader instead of enabling Milton to plunge into a ruined leftist future.”

Several others, some from neighboring jurisdictions, also voiced support for the Milton Municipal Election Feasibility Committee’s recommendation for two polling locations.

But there was one Milton resident, Kevin Shigley, who said it would be “great” to offer as many polling locations as possible.

“Making it easy to vote is something that we should do,” Shigley said. “I would ask you to reconsider and perhaps put together one more location for our fine people of Milton.”

Kevin Shigley at Milton City Council

Milton resident Kevin Shigley advocates for a third polling location on Election Day at the City Council meeting May 15. Shigley’s position was a singular one in the 10 public comments made at the meeting, which came in the wake of a coalition letter published by Stacey Abram’s Fair Fight Action group. The letter cited disenfranchisement of Black and brown voters in Milton’s District 3, who were said to comprise 30 to 50 percent of the area’s voters.

Shigley said he may be among the minority. However, his wife Debra started a petition asking that Milton put a halt to running its own election with an alternative option to add a third polling location. As of May 17, the petition carried more than 55 signatures. In an interview, she said plans to continue raising awareness, specifically in District 3, then regroup about next steps.

“Things are pretty far down the road, and I'm not sure what makes sense, right? Because we want to continue making our voices heard,” Debra Shigley said.

In addition to voter access, she voiced doubts about the election budget that’s been presented to the council. It now sits at around $83,000.

Debra Shigley said she isn’t sure if she’s an “activist,” but she knows she’s a “concerned mom,” who has done some research.

“When you do peel back the curtain a little bit, you see, ‘Well, that doesn't sound right. That doesn't look right. What's going on here?’” she said. “That's sort of what's activated me because I just think if nothing else, we can help shine a light on things …”

Reach Amber Perry at 770-847-8334. Follow her on Twitter @ambermarieperry