When it comes time to cast your vote in November for the general election, it is likely that the majority of you will be at a different voting precinct. The Upson County Board of Elections is working towards combining the nine current voting precincts down to four, stating not as many precincts were needed due to the large number of citizens who participate in early voting. The change will also serve as a cost saving measure, potentially saving the county around $16,000-$20,000 during main election years. Originally, the board had proposed cutting the amount of precincts down to three, but after hearing from the public, decided it would be unreasonable for residents of the City of Yatesville to have to go outside the city limits to vote when a city election is held.
At a called meeting of the Board of Elections held last Monday, Chairman Robert Haney stated he had heard from many citizens regarding the change, with there being arguments made both for and against the change.
“One of those we felt was a very good, legitimate argument was from Yatesville,” said Haney. “Yatesville is an incorporated city and their point was if we have a city election, which they do, they would have to go about seven miles outside of the city to vote. They felt they needed a precinct inside the city limits. Originally we had looked at combining Yatesville and Salem into The Jug and voting at The Jug.”
However, Yatesville and The Jug will now be combined into one precinct with the voting taking place in Yatesville, and Salem would be left as a precinct by itself. Haney explained that after looking at the maps of the area from the Tax Assessor’s office, it was determined that about 85 percent of those who vote at The Jug precinct actually live closer to the Yatesville precinct.
“So in most cases it is either as close or closer for those folks to go to Yatesville to vote than to go down to The Jug,” said Haney. “Of course, we are never going to get everybody, but it was certainly very evident that the less impact would be to combine The Jug with Yatesville rather than combining it with Salem. So, instead of combining down to three precincts, we would combine down to four.”
Haney added that he had already spoken with City of Yatesville Mayor Cecil Moncrief and he is very pleased with the change.
The other precincts would stay the same as the board originally announced at the April 28 meeting of the Upson County Board of Commissioners: Precinct 1 would be made up of Atwater, Redbone, The Rock and Reeves (6,998 registered voters) and would vote at the Atwater precinct (New Hope Baptist Church). Precinct 2 would be made up of Town and Lincoln Park (7,434 registered voters) and citizens would vote at the Civic Center.
Joanne Walker, who serves as a poll worker, was present at the meeting and asked if combining the districts would eliminate a lot of the poll workers. Haney stated that yes, it would downsize the number needed for each election, but those who still want to serve as poll workers would take turns so it would not be the same people every time. He continued, stating the board is determining what would be a fair way of picking the workers for each election and have considered drawing the names out of a hat. Haney also noted a large amount of the savings projected for changing the precincts comes from decreasing the amount of poll workers needed. Board member Bill Westbury added that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to serve as poll workers and decreasing the amount needed at a time will help with that aspect as well.
In addition to saving money, one of the main reasons the board began looking into combining precincts is because many people choose to participate in early voting, rather than waiting until Election Day to cast their vote. Haney gave the example of in the 2012 general election at the Lincoln Park precinct, around 54 percent of voters had voted early and added numbers show that is the case at most of the other precincts as well. The far outlying precincts such as Salem and Yatesville have a lesser amount of early voters, but those in and around the city tend to vote early.
Board member Kay King stated she feels educating the public on the change of precincts and the variety of ways a citizen can vote prior to Election Day will be of most importance. King added that she knows the county needs to save money, but feels the changes will make a big difference for those who are elderly or handicapped and are used to going to certain places and could cause the county to lose some voters. Westbury agreed that educating the voters is very important, such as those who have difficulty leaving their house need to know they can request a ballot be sent to them in the mail and of the other ways to vote early. Chairman Haney stated the board would need to schedule a town hall type meeting one evening to meet with the citizens and inform them of the changes.
In order to have the voting precincts changed for the November 2015 election, the Elections Board has to have everything in place by September 4. Haney stated that the plan is not finalized as of yet and the Elections Board will have their next regular meeting on July 8 to discuss moving forward. They plan to set a town hall meeting soon after. If the precincts change, the state will send out notifications to registered voters 30 days prior to the election informing them of their new voting precinct.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1