Posted: Tuesday, September 18th 2012 at 8:05pm
Habersham consolidating from 14 to 2 polling places
By Rob Moore Editor
CLARKESVILLE – While it won’t happen in time for the November General Election, Habersham County is proceeding with consolidation of its 14 polling places.
On Monday, the commission voted 4-1 to consolidate the county’s current 14 polling places to two.
“We spent several months looking at alternatives,” said Interim Elections Board Chairman Pete Davitto as he introduced the issue before the commission. “Quite frankly, I first started looking at having five voting locations, one for each of your [commission] districts. That really didn’t work out. I looked at having six geographically-spread voting locations. We were told that the preferred number was two.”
“After lengthy discussion – I believe last month I told you it went on for almost a year – we determined that two was possible,” Davitto said. “We based that on Rabun County’s reduction from nine to one. Our recommendation at this point still stands that we reduce it to two locations. Those two locations encompass approximately 80 percent of the citizens of this county.”
“Are some citizens going to be upset with it?” Davitto said. “Of course. Are some citizens going to have to drive a little farther to vote? Of course. I’m one of them. I live in Batesville, and we’re recommending the Batesville polling location be eliminated.”
Davitto said the elections board looked at the Ruby C. Fulbright Aquatic Center near Clarkesville and the Cornelia Community House as polling locations, but only one of those will work.
In the southern portion of the county, both early voting and would be held at the Cornelia Depot because the Cornelia Community House couldn’t be used the three weeks prior to each election, Davitto said.
“We have since determined that the depot in Cornelia is an excellent site,” Davitto said. “The city manager is more than happy to work with us to do what may be required to allow that to be the location.”
“It is our belief that we can serve the citizens of Habersham County in an effective and efficient manner and most probably we’ll be able to get them through the voting line in less time than some of them may be experiencing in today’s environment,” Davitto said.
Michael Carroll, former member of the board of elections, spoke to the commission as a representative of the executive committee and treasurer of the Habersham County Democratic Party.
“We support the move reducing the number of precincts to two if at all possible,” Carroll said. “The benefits of reducing to two are very obvious because of the cost of personnel. Also, of the current 14 precincts, a number of them are not ADA compliant even now and so if we continue to use them sooner or later the county is going to be cited. It’s just a matter of time.”
As a less-desirable alternative should two not be acceptable, Carroll suggested polling locations be located in Baldwin, Clarkesville, Cornelia, and Demorest.
Cal Krefft, speaking earlier in the meeting, said he was against the consolidation of 14 polling places to two.
“There are some people who will very likely be affected adversely,” Krefft said. “While I’m in favor of saving money, it seems to me a cut from 14 to two in one jump might not be prudent.”
Mulkey asked for comments from commissioners.
Henderson said he was willing to change his position based on the lack of opposition from the public.
Commissioner Doug Vermilya said he had heard no concerns about the proposed consolidation.
“We’ve asked for input, we’ve tabled this to make sure nobody feels like they’re being abandoned, disenfranchised, or whatever words you want to use, and I have yet to hear from anybody in the community that was concerned about us going to two precincts,” Vermilya said.
Commissioner Sonny James said he had heard from several people who wanted the county’s current 14 polling places to remain in place.
“We know that that’s not possible because of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” James said. “But the thing that I have a little bit concern with is that the depot in Cornelia – even though they have their own parking – if we go to two, is the parking going to be sufficient?”
Commissioner Andea Harper, former Cornelia Better Hometown manager who worked in the depot for four years, said the parking available at the depot is adequate and perhaps better than that available at the Cornelia Community House.
“The Community House is a larger facility, but there is limited parking there,” Harper said.
James made the motion to proceed with consolidation of voter polling locations to two, as recommended by the board of elections. Harper seconded the motion.
“I’m not going to be for this, because I think going from 14 to two is a big step,” Mulkey said prior to the vote. “I remain a little uncomfortable with doing that.”
The consolidation vote passed, with Mulkey casting the lone no vote.
The changes from 14 to two polling locations would take effect with the 2013 elections and are pending U.S. Justice Department approval, said Habersham County Elections Supervisor/Registrar Laurel Jones on Tuesday.
Jones said Tuesday the Cornelia Depot would serve as both the advance voting and election polling location for the southern end of the county, and that she has cleared the use of that location with Cornelia City Manager Donald Anderson.
Cornelia City Clerk Janie Henderson said Tuesday that city will look to move city elections to the depot as well.
“That’s what we’re hoping is to make it easier and less confusing on the public,” Henderson said. “I think it will be easier for voters to have one uniform location for voting.”
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