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Posted: Tuesday, June 19th 2012 at 12:16am

Habersham delays consolidation of voting precincts

By Rob Moore
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Habersham County resident Doug Franklin urges the county commission not to do away with community voting precincts. (Photo/Rob Moore)
CLARKESVILLE – It will be at least July before the Habersham County Commission decides whether and how to consolidate voting precincts.

At the request of Habersham County Manager Janeann Allison, the Habersham County Board of Election and Registration offered proposals to consolidate from 14 precincts to six (or five), and from 14 precincts to two.

The changes would not go into effect before the end of 2012, and would not impact the November 2012 election.

Under the proposal to consolidate to two precincts, voters in Batesville, Cool Springs, Fair Play, Deep Creek, Glade Creek, Fork, Falling Water, Clarkesville would become Habersham North, with the Ruby Fulbright Aquatic Center in Clarkesville serving as the precinct.

Habersham North would include 10,640 registered voters, with 9,227 being classified as active voters.

Voters in Demorest, Center Hill, Cornelia, View, Mud Creek and Baldwin would become Habersham South, with a voting location to be determined.

Habersham South would include 10,973 registered voters, with 9,567 classified as active voters.

Another proposal called for consolidating from 14 precincts to six (or possibly five).

Under that scenario, Batesville, Cool Springs, and Fork would be consolidated with 2,514 active voters; Fair Play, Deep Creek, and Glade Creek would be consolidated with 3,432 active voters; Center Hill and Cornelia would be consolidated with 4,138 active voters; Falling Water and Demorest would be consolidated with 2,054 active voters; and View, Mud Creek, and Baldwin would be consolidated with 4,006 active voters. Clarkesville, with 2,854 active voters, would remain its own precinct.

Habersham County Elections Supervisor/Registrar Laurel Jones pointed out that the voters of the county will continue to have 21 days prior to each election to cast their ballot at the Habersham County Election and Registration Office, and a full week prior to each election at the current Clarkesville advance voting site (aquatic center), plus a full week prior to each election at an additional advance voting site in the southern portion of the county.

Still, some residents were concerned that taking out each community’s voting precinct would affect voter turnout.

“The right to vote is one of the things that sets our country apart from the rest of the world,” said county resident and former poll worker Rhonda Gladden. “I’m very concerned about a reduction to six/five – and to two scares me.”

Gladden, who worked with elections for the past two years, said elections are like “old home week,” noting the community gathers at the polling place to discuss everything but elections.

“You’re going to lose your community feel around the county,” Gladden said.
Gladden also encouraged county leaders to consider those who may not have a car, or who can’t easily drive half way across the county to vote.

Gladden acknowledged that some of the county’s current polling places are not as Americans with Disabilities Act compliant as they should be.

“I know some of the poll workers are working in horrendous conditions at some of the older locations,” she said.

That fact also is acknowledged in the board of election and registration’s letter to Allison.

“Currently there are polling locations where ADA compliance is not certain,” the letter states. “It is the opinion of this board that the county could be at risk if this practice continues.”

Leon Lann, a resident of Habersham County for the past eight years and a member of the Habersham County Board of Elections and Registration, pointed out that people will make the extra effort to vote.

“I’m 78 years old,” Lann said. “I haven’t missed an election.”

Similarly, Habersham County resident Doug Franklin said he has voted in every election with the exception of two runoffs since he was 18, and that he believes precincts are important.

“I thought this courtroom would be full of people opposed to doing away with the precincts,” Franklin said.

Franklin said the county already has difficulty getting voters to turn out for elections.

“We cannot afford to lose another voter in the county,” Franklin said.

Wade Rhodes asked the cost to Habersham County to hold an election, saying he had heard $15,000 to $20,000.

When county officials said the cost is in that range, Rhodes proposed that any official who resigns to seek another office should be required to pay the county the cost of any required special election.

The letter from the board of election and registration states the county currently utilizes 55 to 65 poll workers per election, depending on the anticipated turnout. Poll workers are paid $100, while poll managers receive $130.

With the proposed consolidation to two precincts – which was unanimously recommended by the board of election and registration – the initial requirement would be for between 30 and 40 poll workers initially. That number could be reduced after the transitional period and with the anticipated increase in early voting, the letter states.

Commissioner Chad Henderson explained that the county’s proposed budget numbers require officials to cut corners wherever possible.

“You hate to see this kind of thing necessitated,” Henderson said.

Any proposed voting location change would have to receive U.S. Department of Justice approval before taking effect.

Asked by commission members whether action was required on the request at Monday’s meeting, County Manager Janeann Allison said, “I think you have enough time to wait until next month for a decision.”

Commissioner Andrea Harper made the motion to table the consolidation of voting precincts indefinitely. That motion was approved unanimously.

Following the meeting, Harper said, “I have some concerns, and I think we needed to table it tonight to find out a little bit more about it. A lot of my concerns are notification of the public. I can understand we need to save money, I can understand the logic behind it. My big fear is that when people show up to vote they won’t have known about it or they won’t understand it.”

“I think if we’re going to go ahead and do this, there’s going to have to be a very big educational program that goes along with this,” Harper said.

Harper said that while the board of election and registration voted unanimously to recommend consolidating from 14 precincts to two, the county commission has not decided whether to consolidate from 14 to six, to five, or to two.

A public hearing to allow comments on the proposed consolidation will be held during the commission’s July meeting.
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