Despite opposition that continued to build Monday, the Richmond County Board of Elections is moving forward with a plan to end voting at two senior citizen apartment complexes and other locations.
Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said she received a petition containing 161 signatures Monday from residents at St. John Tower, one of the complexes, along with correspondence from Augusta Commission candidates Sammie Sias and Dennis Williams, pastor K.B. Martin, state Reps. Wayne Howard and Gloria Frazier and Augusta NAACP President Charles Smith. All sought to stop or postpone the polling place changes.
“The proposal to move senior citizens from St. Johns and Peabody Towers is not in the best interest of voting rights, convenience and respect to their most constitutional fundamental rights, and that is the power and right to vote,” said a statement issued by Smith on behalf of the local branch and state NAACP conference.
Smith called the board’s 3-1 vote Monday “a slap in the face” and said he would consult with conference leaders on further action.
Republican appointees Chip Barbee and Sherry Barnes and nonpartisan member Sanford Loyd voted for the changes. Democrat L.C. Myles was opposed, while Democrat Terence Dicks abstained, giving no reason.
The board revealed plans in August to end voting at eight of its 50 polling locations: St. John, Peabody Apartments, Fire Station No. 8 on Highland Avenue, Cokesbury United Methodist Church, the Johnson Center in Cherry Tree Crossing, Morgan Road Middle School, the Windsor Spring Road VFW and New Life Worship Center.
Smith said the changes, expected to affect about 13 percent of Richmond County’s 98,000 registered voters, will disproportionately affect as many as 9,000 minority voters.
Though some voters voiced opposition at earlier hearings, board members expressed surprise at the amount they continued to receive Monday. Myles made a motion to table the changes until later but it failed 3-2, with Barbee, Barnes and Loyd opposed.
Jack Gillis, one of a handful of St. John residents at Monday’s meeting, was disgusted at the outcome after so many voiced opposition.
“I feel rotten about this,” Gillis said. “It tells me that democracy is not working here.”
The changes require St. John seniors, whose average age is 84, to travel outside the complex to vote and many residents are disabled or not mobile, he said.
“We’re supposed to be a compassionate nation,” Gillis said.
Local Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said he planned to ask Augusta legislators to see what they could do.
The NAACP is monitoring voting changes in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidating the part of the Voting Rights Act that required all changes that could affect minority voting strength to be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. The board’s decision to eliminate polling places was its first since the civil rights era to not be required to go for Justice Department review.