MoCo Board Of Elections Eliminates 4 Precincts
The Montgomery County Board of Elections voted 3-2 to eliminate 4 of the County’s 7 precincts and consolidate into 3 polling locations – Mount Vernon, Higgston, and Uvalda.
The idea of precinct consolidation first arose after the Montgomery County Board of Elections announced this proposal at a joint meeting of the continued from page
Board and Montgomery County Commission last month. During this meeting, Board of Elections Chairman William Morris explained that after reviewing the statistics from the 2020 election, the Board had agreed that they could reduce the number of precincts in an effort to improve time efficiency, cut costs, and provide more controlled elections.
“The election superintendent is required to upload the county election results to the Secretary of State office by 10 p.m. on election days,” Morris told the Commissioners. “Having fewer precincts means there are fewer people to talk to from each precinct, and fewer people having to provide information.”
The Board held a public forum to discuss this proposed change, which eliminates the Ailey, Alston, Kibbee, and Tarrytown precincts, on Monday, May 1, where over thirty members of the public showed up to share their concerns on the issue. Then, after hearing a presentation from Chairman Morris which outlined the details of the change, the Board voted on the issue on Tuesday morning, May 2, and the change was approved on a 3-2 vote, with Board Members Erica Russell and Nakia Brazell opposing the change.
“We feel like by going to 3 precincts, we will have the right equipment in the right place and there will be more of it,” Morris explained. “We have lots of opportunities. First off, we have 3 weeks of early voting [at the Montgomery County Government Annex in Mount Vernon]. I don’t live in this precinct, but I vote here more often than not. I voted in [my precinct] Higgston 1 time, and then I found out that I could come vote up here on any given day. That’s what we’re saying – as far as being here, there is 15 weekdays and 2 Saturdays that you can come up here and vote. If you feel that you can’t be here or it hampers you to be here, call in and get an absentee ballot. Every ballot is counted. We’re going to make sure that everything is secured for the votes.”
Cheek added, “Our priority is that everybody votes. We don’t want anybody to go without voting if they want to vote, so we are going to see to it that everybody has a chance to vote – we’re not trying to cut anybody out or do anything to hinder anybody from voting.” Effects of the Change
According to Morris, the County will save $2,000 per Election Day with the precinct consolidation because of the decreased number of poll workers to pay. He said that this cost efficiency change will help with the need for updated equipment, which will allow for control over elections.
“The machines that we are wanting to get will speed the process up; it cuts you out of having to do the paperwork. The state always furnishes our equipment, but they’re not doing that this time, so the county has to furnish it. To do it for 7 polls would be a lot of money,” Cheek commented.
Not only do these machines speed the process up, but they also allow Cheek to monitor voting on Election Day. “She can see the votes from all the precincts through this technology; it will help her make sure everything is running smoothly,” Morris explained.
The consolidation also places a higher number of voters and poll workers in each precinct. A total of 6 poll workers will man each polling location, which has between 1,600 and 2,000 voters assigned to it.
Yet, Morris said that this large number of people assigned to each precinct will not be the same amount that come through the location on Election Day. In fact, he encouraged individuals to advance vote to help cut down on wait time and crowds. “Now, I tell my wife sometimes [that] I like to go shopping on Christmas Eve just because it’s Christmas Eve. I don’t know if you get the best buys, but I like to do it,” he told attendees. “Some people like to go to the polls on Election Day because they feel like their vote counts more. Well, it doesn’t; it counts the same as anybody else’s, but there will always be somebody who says, ‘I’m going to vote on Election Day.’ We know that. We’re not trying to take anything away from you. We’re just trying to make our 3 polls better, more efficient, and faster. By putting more machines in here and having an adequate number of people here to take care of it, you should be able to come up, vote quick, and go home or wherever else you have to go.”
During the public hearing on Monday, May 1, many citizens stepped up to ask questions and learn more about this proposed change. Montgomery County Board of Elections and Registration Chairman William Morris and Election Superintendent Sheila Cheek answered the questions and concerns proposed by citizens.
When asked if there would be more weekend opportunities to vote, Cheek informed the citizens that currently only 2 Saturday voting opportunities were allowed during the early voting period by law. Also, according to her, the County Commission would have to vote to approve a voting opportunity on Sundays during Early Voting.
Another concern of the citizens was the wait time which combining multiple precincts may cause. “Let’s say you have an abundance [of voters] here in Mount Vernon to vote, and you only have 8 machines. That’s still going to create a problem of people having to stand in line. You have elderly people, such as myself, with a walking stick. You have some people with walkers. What’s going to happen with those people if they’re standing in a long line?” he questioned.
Morris responded, “We’re going to have a couple machines set up just specifically for people with those issues, but you’re going to move to the front of the line.”
“With 8 machines, you are going to see a big difference,” Cheek emphasized.
“Mount Vernon has only ever had 4 machines. They’ve never used but 4. We’re doubling what they had,” Morris concluded.
Issue of Change
“If the [7 precinct system] worked, why change it? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” one citizen emphatically told Morris and Cheek.
The pair explained that the precinct consolidation had came from a desire for cost efficiency. “If we don’t fix it, we lose the cost efficiency for one thing. We won’t have enough [funding] to do [these new machines] in all 7 precincts,” Morris informed the man.
According to Morris, these new machines cost around $700 each, and to buy at least 14 of them – 2 for each precinct – seemed preposterous. “We have talked to our commissioners and they have agreed to give us a hand with the equipment for the 3 polls. That will all take place in time. We are preparing right now to make sure we are ready for the next election, and the next election is next year,” he added.
Another question arose about the amount of change currently being implemented in Montgomery County polls. “Have you considered what the effect of all the changes that have recently been made will do [to voters in the county], especially the elderly population? We have a larger elderly population here, and you just had a large redistricting where there was changes, you had changes with the machines, you’re about to change the machines again, you have a new Board [of Elections and Registration], Early Voting is in a different place – everything is all brand new, and generally, people don’t respond well to that. What is your plan for that?” someone asked.
“Well, we’re going to do everything we can to advertise our changes. As soon as the state comes back and says that the boundaries are okay, we are going to put that map out to everybody and say, ‘Okay, you’re now here, you vote in this precinct.’ We’re going to put out a letter showing you where you will be to every registered voter. We’re also then going to send you a poll notice later, before early voting starts, to remind you where you now vote. We tend to do what we can to advertise it and do what we can to get it to people,” Morris remarked.
Cheek further reassured the citizen, as she stated, “A majority of the elderly come and vote early.”
Location of Polls in Precincts
When asked where each voting location would be in these three precincts, Morris explained that the Mount Vernon polling location would be at the Montgomery County Annex, the Uvalda polling location will be at the same location as normal, and the Higgston polling location is currently being decided.
“We have a place right now in Higgston, but we are looking for somewhere a little bit bigger,” he commented.
One citizen asked if the Board had looked into the placement of absentee ballot drop boxes and was informed by Cheek that a drop box may only be located in the County’s main precinct and it must be inside the building. She explained that this law was made before the last election in 2022.
More questions arose within this conversation, such as how this sort of setup would help those who work during the day. “A lot of times, [many of us] work 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; if the building closes at 5 p.m. and is closed and locked, how does that help us? I might not always have time to come in and early vote – it’s easier to come by and drop off an absentee [ballot],” one local man said. continued from page
Cheek responded to his concern, suggesting that the citizen mail his absentee ballot to the Board of Elections and Registration if he was unable to make it during those times because the state law mandated that the drop box be inside the facility.
With the number of poll workers dropping from 33 to 18, many citizens were left with questions about how the polls will be manned. According to Morris, the 18 poll workers, which the Board previously told the public was the set amount they were planning to utilize on Election Day, does not include those who work the weeks of early voting or those who sort the absentee ballots on Election Day. “For Early Voting, we will have somewhere around 5-6 [poll workers],” Morris explained. “The 18 poll workers are for Election Day. [For] Early Voting, we can’t control more than that. We can only control the number of people we put in here. But we have not looked at that number for the savings we could potentially see yet. I’ve left that up to the Commissioners.”
He continued, sharing that the Board had not yet figured out how many people should work early voting. “I’ve looked at the numbers and around 100125 [voters on weekdays], 30 [voters] on Saturdays, that seems to be normal. But 60 voters on any day is normal. You don’t need 6 people for that.”
Cheek and Morris also explained that the absentee ballots will be counted by the Montgomery County Board of Elections and Registration on Election Day.
“We’re probably shooting a little bit high on the number of workers [for Election Day], but it depends on the election. Presidential election – it’s going to be busy, it’s going to be extremely busy, it always is. But you have these other elections that you won’t need as many people. It’s a fluctuating thing, but we will never go over 6 [poll workers] in each precinct.”
Data Used In Decision
The question of why the 2020 election data rather than the 2022 election data was used to support the decision came up amongst the public. “The 2020 election was in the midst of Covid,” one citizen said. “Everything now is based on life after Covid. Have you looked at all at the 2022 election?”
The citizen continued to share that the Kibbee precinct, which will combine with the Higgston precinct, had voted more people on Election Day than the Mount Vernon precinct in 2022. “Now, you’re taking these two precincts who are really coming out with people and sticking them into what right now is the precinct with the smallest square footage precinct,” the individual added.
Morris told the group that the Board has chosen to look at the 2020 Presidential Election data because 72.89% of the voters in Montgomery County voted, while the election last year only had a 61% voter population turnout. “We were looking at the fact we had more people show up to vote on the Presidential Election than we do the other ones,” he remarked.
He continued, “My goal is to see us get more voters. We have 5,400 registered, but only 3,900 actually voted [in past elections]. I want to see us have enough communication with people that says, ‘We all come out and vote, and we are trying to set up our polls to increase our numbers and to be able to get more people to vote.’ Another county right next to us had 82% [voter turnout] the last election. We had 72% [voter turnout]. I think Montgomery [County] can do better than that.”
The citizen replied, “But when you are stretching [voters] that far, are you really encouraging them to go out and vote or are you discouraging them? I know, personally, I’ve had people walk to my precinct, I’ve had people ride bikes [to my precinct]; so, in those situations, what are you supposed to do?”
“I understand that,” Morris said,” But part of the presentation that I have put on is that most people today drive to Vidalia to see their doctor. So, I don’t know if I have inconvenienced you if you’re voting in Ailey and you have to come to Mount Vernon to vote, is it that much of a big deal? I think if you have that much inconvenience in your life, you need to vote on absentee ballot.”
Other concerns shared involved the decision to do 3 polls, eradicating any precinct in the Northern area of the County, rather than placing 4 precincts in the North, South, East, and West areas of the County, and the location of the precincts that the Board was from.
One man explained that he felt like the Board of Elections and Registrars should have had representatives from each precinct area within the County to ensure that all areas had a voice.
Another individual shared their fear that public comments would not be taken into consideration because of the short time between the hearing and the official vote. The citizen also told Morris that he felt like the Board should have gained more public input before even moving forward on considering such a large change.
The proposed precinct boundary change will now be sent to state officials, who must approve the alteration. Once that alteration is approved, Cheek will work within the election computer system to move everyone into the correct precinct. This change is expected to be completed by the end of June.