Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy said he hoped the Board of Elections would consider the high percentage of minority voters that will have new polling places under the proposal. Before the board gives its final approval, Fennoy said he’d like to see revisions.
“We need to look at this plan and see if we can come up with something different where so many African-Americans aren’t affected by the change,” he said at a public hearing at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library.
Fennoy has said 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. About 10 people attended the meeting Tuesday.
The proposed plan was developed to accommodate voters as more choose to vote before Election Day, said Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey. In the 2012 presidential election, 31,118 voters cast ballots early. The changes include adding an advance voting site at Diamond Lakes Regional Park, for a total of four locations countywide, and consolidating the 50 Election Day sites down to 44.
In response to Fennoy’s complaint, Board of Election secretary L.C. Myles, an appointee of the local Democratic Party, said the changes affect a high number of minorities because Richmond County has a “minority majority.” Minorities were also significantly affected by the 2011 redistricting.
Some concerned about elderly voters affected by the proposed closing of polls at St. John’s Towers and Peabody Apartments, including Augusta NAACP President Charles Smith, said the community would have to help transport elderly and disabled voters to polls.
Bailey said because the Augusta Housing Authority operates Peabody Apartments, transportation could be available.
Despite the Justice Department changes, elections officials said they are maintaining a transparent process. The precinct plan is available on the Board of Elections Web site and public comment is welcome for three more weeks.
The board anticipates voting on the plan, which would effect 2014 elections, in late November or early December, Bailey said.