Changes in Augusta polling places to be proposed

A busy election year could get a little more hectic with several changes in the works at Richmond County Board of Elections.

The office will unveil today a proposal to change the voting locations of nearly 13 percent of the county’s 109,000 registered voters, Executive Director Lynn Bailey said.

The changes, if approved, will be in effect in time for 2014 elections, when Augustans will choose a new mayor, five school board members and city commissioners and numerous other local and statewide elected officials.

The proposed polling place changes are a continued “tidying up” since 2011 redistricting the board has been working on for months, she said.

“This is not something the board has done on a whim,” she said.

For the first time in nearly 50 years, however, the board isn’t required to seek preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for the changes, after the Supreme Court overruled part of the Voting Rights Act in June.

Area voting rights advocates viewed news of the changes with only mild concern.

“Just because Justice is not involved, it doesn’t mean we are going to sit back...” said neighborhood association leader Sammie Sias.

Sias, a plaintiff in last year’s local redistricting lawsuit who is running for the District 4 commission post, said he’s already expecting the voting changes, plus more from the Republican-led state legislature.

While preclearance derailed a 2012 effort by Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, to move the city’s nonpartisan mayor and commission elections from November to July, Sias said he anticipates the issue to return.

“You can expect the Republican party to go ahead and move with that,” Sias said.

Charles Smith, president of the Augusta NAACP, took note of the election board’s timing “at the same time the bells are going off to celebrate around the world” on the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington but said he trusted Bailey.

“We are going to monitor the changes and the shifting of the precincts,” he said. “I think it will be adjustments that will be fair.”

Besides the voting location changes, Bailey will propose a new, third Augusta advance voting site to city commissioners Wednesday.

The location, at Diamond Lakes Community Center, will give Richmond County voters a third place to cast ballots early for any reason the week prior to election day, as well as the preceding Saturday.

“It will be a great service for folks living out in that area; that certainly is the intent,” Bailey said.

Operating a third advance voting location will consume about $6,500 of the $9,000 in expected savings from closing or realigning polling places, she said, but advance voting is so popular that half Augusta’s registered voters cast ballots early in the city’s last two major elections, Bailey said.

Bailey said she’ll also discuss with commissioners changes in campaign finance reporting requirements and the expected impact of Georgia’s revised federal voting schedule on the local elections calendar. It will likely push qualifying for most local offices as early as March, regardless of the dates of general elections, she said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Augusta Commission Work Session

WHEN: 3 p.m. today

WHERE: Lee Beard Commission Chamber, Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.

More