NAACP wants additional polling sites for Georgia primary

By: Jonathan Martin
By: Jonathan Martin

Georgia's voting laws have taken a pummeling lately, with voter ID laws under attack. Now, Augusta's polling places are in question.

Some are saying early voting needs to be expanded to be fair for everyone.

Advance voting becomes more popular with each election. It's always available the week before the November election, but not during Georgia's July primary.

The NAACP is taking steps to get that changed.

Many folks enjoy the convenience of voting early.

But NAACP leaders say it's not so convenient, especially for seniors in south and west Augusta, when there's only one polling place for the primary.

Though time is of the essence and money seems to matter, Augusta NAACP president Charles Smith is asking for a change.

"Hopefully they can come together and find a way to make this happen for the citizens," he says.

Friday, he sent a letter of petition to the Augusta commission and board of elections asking that all three advance voting sites be opened for the July primary.

Right now, only the downtown location is scheduled to be open. Smith says with such big ballot, that shouldn't be the case.

"We don't feel that citizens that live as far out in Hephzibah, West Augusta, need to drive to the Municipal building, when there are centers and sites that the taxpayers are paying taxes for," Smith says.

Director of Elections Lynn Bailey says she understands the concern but says the primaries don't typically draw many voters. She also says the board has never opened multiple sites in July.

"In the past we've opened up the advanced voting sites for only November elections," she says. "That's what we've done consistently since 2003, so this is not a change in practice."

Regardless, Smith says he's pushing for two more voting sites not just for black but for all voters.

But there may be one obstacle. There's only one commission meeting between now and the primary, and that agenda is already set. That means unanimous consent is required for the change to even be considered.

"Due to our current budget situation, I'm not sure you could get unanimous consent to add it to the agenda in the first place," says Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver. "So it's really a timing issue at this point."

Smith says the NAACP just wants it to be convenient for everyone to vote...something Bailey says she wants as well.

"It's my hope that our decision not to open up in July won't be seen as a negative," she says. "We are still here and opened for business. So when you get in your car to vote in advance, you'll just have to come to the courthouse to do it."

Smith tells us he's spoken to most of the commissioners. He says most are on board with making these changes before the primary. We'll see what happens during the next commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 29.

Bailey estimates it would cost about $12,000 to open the additional two polling centers. The mayor says that may not seem like much money, but it adds up considering there are likely to be runoffs.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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