Elections board opts not to consolidate precincts

Emanuel’s polling locations will remain untouched despite a proposal to consolidate a few of them. The Emanuel County Board of Elections and Emanuel County Elections Director Kerry Curry held a public hearing last week and reviewed the benefits of the potential consolidation, but after hearing from just a few of the citizens who would be impacted by the decision, voters will continue to report to the precincts as they always have.


Ahead of the meeting on August 11, Curry prepared pertinent information for the elections board to include the geographic distances between the involved precincts, data from voter turnout from recent elections, election financials, poll staffing, Senate Bill 202, and the number of registered voters.


In theory, if the board of elections opted to combine Oak Park, Stillmore, and Nunez; combine Cross-Green into Summertown; and combine Garfield into Twin City, this would be a well-rounded decision on paper, according to Curry’s notes.


Below are the summaries that were presented to the board of elections last Wednesday by her:


Distance

Cross-Green to Stillmore is 7.3 miles apart while Garfield to Twin City measures a difference of 6.1 miles.


The percentage of early (advance as well as absentee) voting for each precinct

For the 2020 primary, Oak Park had 43 percent voter turnout; Cross-Green had 37 percent; Garfield had 40 percent; Nunez had 40 percent; and Stillmore had 44 percent.


In the August 2020 election, Oak Park had 36 percent turnout; Cross-Green had 16 percent; Garfield had 50 percent; Nunez had 8 percent; and Stillmore had 31 percent.


In the November 2020 election, Oak Park saw a voter turnout of 43 percent; Cross-Green saw 47 percent; Garfield saw 38 percent; Nunez saw 45 percent; and Stillmore saw 48 percent.


In the January 2021 election, Oak Park’s turnout was 35 percent; Cross-Green’s was 38 percent; Garfield’s was 40 percent; Nunez’s was 34 percent; and Stillmore’s was 42 percent.


Overall, those cities, in their respective orders, had average turnouts across those four elections of 39, 35, 42, 32, and 41 percent.


Savings if those precincts were closed

Poll worker pay, according to Curry, comes with a $2,060 price tag per election. Ballots are $400 per election. Travel for both Election Day as well as machine set-up and retrieval costs $150 per election. Total, 2020 would’ve seen a savings of $8,240 if those precincts were shut down.


Staffing at the polls

At a minimum, the County of Emanuel has 33 poll workers. Under Emanuel’s current elections operation, those staffers are spread out across 11 precincts with a requirement of three at each. Swainsboro, in a normal election, typically has 10, and Twin City has four or five. The elections office also uses five or 10 part-time workers for advance voting. For a general election, the office requires somewhere between 40 and 50 workers. Each of those workers must, by law, have training before each election. That, according to Curry, coupled with the fact that it’s difficult to find someone who isn’t retired, doesn’t work, or can take a day off in exchange for a 14-hour work day, makes staffing even more difficult. Combining the precincts, she offered, would reduce the total number, a number already difficult to met, by 12.


Senate Bill 202

Another point Curry addressed at the mid-week meeting involved Senate Bill 202, a piece of legislation that tightened election measures. The new law came into effect July 1, 2021 and requires all votes to be reported to the secretary of stater’s office by no later than 10 p.m. on Election Day. This, she said, would put “added pressure” on poll workers who have to count all ballots and gather supplies before leaving their precinct.


Registered voters in each precinct

Finally, Curry provided the elections board with the total number of registered voters in each of the discussed precints. As of the meeting, Cross-Green had 253. Summertown clocked in at 541 for a total of 794 potential voters who would cast their ballots in one setting, should the board of elections choose to consolidate those two polls into one.


Garfield, as of the meeting, had 532 registered voters while Twin City had 1,752. This would account for a total of 2,284 potential voters casting their ballots in one setting, again, if the board of elections had approved the consolidation of those two precincts.


Finally, Oak Park, as of the meeting, registered 743 voters. Stillmore had 660, and Nunez had 405. Their combined totals bottom-lined at 1,808 voters casting their ballots in one place, should the board have taken action last Wednesday.


In closing, the average number of voters in Emanuel County who actually showed up at the polls on Election Day for the last general election was just 25 percent. In the August 2020 runoff, only 10 people voted in Garfield all day.


Be that data as it may, the Emanuel County Board of Elections opted to keep the county’s 11 precincts in tact after a handful of the assembled voiced their opposing opinions, calling for the board to consider how these changes might negatively impact voting, regardless of the potential benefits that might exist.


Regan Slater, mayor of Stillmore, was also in attendance that evening and offered this: “I personally was glad they didn’t consolidate the precincts because of two reasons, one being that the demographics of the precincts are largely elderly people who have limited means of transportation to get to a polling station and the second being that the citizens of these small precincts take pride in holding their own elections in their respected towns and precincts, so I didn’t see the need to move the polling stations.”


Additionally, Garfield resident Pam Baggett was on hand. Revisiting the issue on Monday afternoon, she stated to The Chronicle, “My main reason for keeping all precincts open was accessibility. We have many elderly who would not travel to Twin City to vote. Garfield voters include many folks outside of the city in rural areas. It makes sense to keep our precinct open—as well as all the others. We are a large, spread-out county, and we need to ensure that everyone has equal access to vote. Consolidating precincts would save the county approximately $7,000 to $8,000 per year. According to Commissioner James Canady who was present, this money is part of the budget already. The crowd in attendance agreed that what we got ain’t broke, so why try to fix it?”


On a public Facebook post discussing the matter, Oak Park mayor Mickey Lindsey sounded off as well, calling this a “win for small towns like Garfield and Oak Park,” expressing his pride for the turnout and outcome, too.

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