Consultant fired amid anger over plan to shut Georgia polling places

- Officials have fired a consultant after widespread opposition erupted over a proposal to close most polling places in a predominantly black Georgia county, the county's lawyer said Thursday.

Randolph County lawyer Tommy Coleman gave The Associated Press a letter he sent Wednesday to consultant Mike Malone ending the contract. Coleman also wrote in the letter that he was enclosing a check to cover about $2,200 in fees invoiced by Malone.

Malone did not respond Thursday to a voicemail seeking comment.

Coleman said the county elections board is still set to vote Friday on the proposal to eliminate seven of the rural county's nine polling places.

County officials said the polling places don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But critics raised questions about the timing, coming just months before a hotly contested race in which Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking to become Georgia's first black governor.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent a letter to county officials last week demanding that they abandon the proposal. Dozens of angry emails from around the country accused county officials of discriminating against black voters.

Census figures show the county's population is more than 61 percent black, double the statewide percentage. The county sits about 160 miles (260 kilometers) south of Atlanta, near the border with Alabama.

Leaders from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday morning held a news conference urging Randolph County officials not to move forward with the plan.

Democratic Rep. Sandra Scott of Rex, Georgia, said the closures would disenfranchise black voters and echoed a past era of institutionalized racial discrimination.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent a joint letter Wednesday to election officials in all 159 Georgia counties, urging them to avoid polling place changes that could disenfranchise voters.

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