Consolidation of polling places being discussed

Recommendations made by the current and former superintendent of elections to consider a consolidation of Grady County polling places appeared to lack traction Tuesday night when discussed by the Grady County commission.
Retired Probate Judge Sadie W. Voyles first brought up the idea in a letter she wrote to the county commissioners prior to the expiration of her term last year. Current Probate Judge Denise Maddox favors a consolidation of polls as well and appeared before the board Tuesday night to discuss the matter with county commissioners.
Grady County Commission Vice Chairman T.D. David had requested the commission discuss the recommendation made by Judge Voyles and he also requested Judge Maddox to present some information to the board for consideration.
On Tuesday night, Judge Maddox presented a proposal, which is just one possibility and one that she was able to develop on short notice.
Under the scenario the three largest precincts would remain unchanged. The three largest are Cairo 4, Cairo 5 and Woodland.
However, under Judge Maddox’s proposal Pine Park and Duncanville precincts could be consolidated with Midway. That would create a new Midway precinct that would have a total of 2,620 voters and would be equal in size to each of the three largest precincts.
Currently, Pine Park has 773 registered voters, Duncanville has 440 registered voters and Midway has 1,407 registered voter.
Judge Maddox also proposed consolidating Spence, Springhill and Limesink and Blowing Cave into a single precinct that would have a combined total of 2,398 voters.
Currently, Blowing Cave has 791 registered voters, Spence has 739, Springhill has 536 and Limesink has 332. All four are also less than 10 miles apart.
Under the proposal presented by Judge Maddox, Higdon, with 884 registered voters, and Ragan, with 545, could be consolidated with Whigham, which has 1,233 for a combined total of 2,622.
This plan would reduce the number of polling places from 13 to six and all would have roughly the same number of registered voters.
“Ideally, I feel that combining all precincts into one precinct is the most cost efficient for Grady County,” Judge Maddox wrote the board of commissioners.
However, she noted if that was not an acceptable plan a consolidation of precincts would be recommended.
Judge Maddox predicted the county could eliminate 40 percent to 50 percent of the poll workers required to conduct elections in the county which would result in significant savings to the county.
Additional savings would be realized in less cost of printing ballots, according to the probate judge.
“The most important thing to consider is how we can save money in a critical economic time for our county with as little inconvenience to the voters as possible,” Judge Maddox said.
She admited a consolidation of precincts may cost the county some voters who are not willing to drive the extra difference or take the extra time to vote. Judge Maddox said she would contact election superintendents from other counties in Georgia that have already consolidated to learn more about the impact on voter participation.
“I’m definitely all about saving money, but the majority of our voters are older people and if we start making them drive farther to vote you’ll get a smaller vote. That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Grady County Commission Chairman Billy Poitevint.
Judge Maddox noted that more and more people vote early at the courthouse than in the past and in the most recent special election she had to pay three poll workers to cover one of the smaller precincts from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and only 12 people came out to vote.
Commissioner Charles Norton said that consolidating the voting precincts would also decrease the amount of time some residents who work out-of-town would have to vote.
“You’ve got more than one day to vote. My gosh! To my way of thinking we need to try and save anyway we can. You’re going to have risk with benefit. The risk is how many voters we lose, but the benefit is the money we can save,” Vice Chairman David said.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs warned rural voters would oppose the change. He also said the savings the county would realize would be on the backs of voters who had to drive extra distances to vote with gas that is nearly $4 per gallon.
Vice Chairman David predicted voters who wanted to vote would find a way to get to the courthouse or a consolidated polling place to vote.
“Are you saying that if they currently drive four miles to vote and we move it eight miles away they’re not going to drive the extra four miles? Come on,” David said.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland also voiced concern that voter participation would be negatively impacted by a consolidation of polling places. However, she agreed with Vice Chairman David that Judge Maddox should take additional time to do more research and contact other counties where similar action has been taken.
Commissioner Copeland also noted the county needed to take steps to make all polling places fully handicapped accessible. Both Judge Voyles and Judge Maddox pointed out that the Woodland precinct is not handicapped accessible. The Woodland precinct is housed in the Cairo Municipal Airport terminal building.
“Let’s don’t let the idea die, but let’s weigh the whole thing,” Chairman Poitevint said.
Judge Maddox agreed to do additional research and consider other consolidation options.
During the public participation section of the agenda Tuesday night, Annette Lodge spoke out in opposition to any consolidation of voting precincts.
She said such a move would be “detrimental to the heart” of the smaller communities in the county and would also reduce the number of citizens who vote.
“You need to leave them where they are,” Mrs. Lodge said.

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