Senior citizens living at St. John Towers and Peabody Apartments downtown won’t have an on-site polling place under a closure plan proposed by the Richmond County Board of Elections.
Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey cited “efficiency” in the board’s decision to eliminate the polls at St. John and Peabody in addition to polls at Fire Station No. 8 on Highland Avenue, Cokesbury United Methodist Church and the Johnson Center in Cherry Tree Crossing, which Augusta Housing Authority is closing, in a presentation to Augusta Commission members Wednesday.
The prospect of St. John’s 780 registered voters having to travel three-quarters of a mile to vote at May Park instead of St. John didn’t sit well with St. John resident Jean Stovall, who considers herself politically active, despite being physically limited because of age and illness.
“I think to displace any of the residents living downtown, whether they are loft apartments or clustered downtown is a bad idea,” Stovall said. “We waste enough money without putting hardship on people that vote and don’t drive. These are people that are invested into the downtown. I just think it’s a very poor decision.”
Other polling places slated for elimination and voters moved elsewhere include Morgan Road Middle School, for increased safety; the Windsor Spring Road VFW, about which voters have complained; and New Life Worship Center, which wants to cease hosting elections, Bailey said. In all, the polling place closures and a handful of other
adjustments will affect about 13 percent of Augusta-Richmond County voters, she said.
None of the voters’ districts or elected representatives will change under the proposal, except for 404 voters at Vineyard Church who are being added to Senate District 24, which the Legislature drew into Richmond County during redistricting, Bailey said.
The elections board is seeking input now on the plan and will hold a public hearing Oct. 15 on the changes, Bailey said. The proposal will be coupled with raising voter awareness of the option to vote absentee for any reason or to vote “advance” at one of three locations in the week before election day, she said.
In all, the changes will save the elections board about $9,000, although opening a third advance voting site at Diamond Lakes Community Center will cost about $6,500.
Any savings might be useful during 2014’s busy election year, when Augusta will elect a new mayor, five commissioners and five school board members in addition to numerous other local and statewide officials, a congressman and a U.S. senator.
A federal judge Tuesday moved Georgia’s federal primaries to May 20, 2014, while state and local primaries are scheduled for July 15, 2014. If the Legislature doesn’t adjust the state calendar to coincide with the federal changes – which will also push local qualifying back to March – it will cost Augusta about $120,000 to hold the second primary, Bailey said.
Commissioner Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor in 2014, asked about the plan’s impact on seniors and wanted data on how many affected voters actually voted early in prior elections.
Commissioner Bill Fennoy said it was a “real concern” that about 9,000 of the voters being relocated to new polling places are black. For the first time in decades, the changes won’t be required to have preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice, after the Supreme Court overruled part of the Voting Rights Act in June.
The meeting drew representatives of Rep. John Barrow’s office and the Augusta NAACP, whose president, Charles Smith, said the organization was watching the proposal carefully.