When Election Day rolls around this November, voters in Upson County will need to pay close attention to the cards sent to them from the State of Georgia designating which precinct they are to go to due to changes being made. In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Upson County Board of Elections approved combining the nine current precincts down to four, in efforts to save the county potentially $16,000-$20,000 during major election years. Board member Kay King cast the sole no vote and had previously stated she felt combining the precincts could put those who are elderly or unable to drive at a disadvantage.
About 10 people attended a public hearing Tuesday evening, prior to the vote. Chairman Robert Haney explained why this is something the Elections Board was proposing to do. Haney noted one of the main reasons is because most people take advantage of early voting and cast their vote before Election Day. The cost to fully staff a voting precinct when only a few people actually come in to cast their vote adds up rather quickly. When Haney spoke to the Upson County Board of Commissioners about the change in April, he 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.
A concern of Election Board member Kay King is the change would discourage voting for many of the elderly or those who are unable to drive because they cannot go as far to some of the new precincts. Concerned citizen Jaqueline Hollis also expressed that belief at the public hearing, stating she felt the voters in Lincoln Park would particularly be discouraged of voting because they would not be able to get to the new precinct for the district, which is the Thomaston-Upson Civic Center.
“I know it is only about two and a half miles to town, but when you don’t have a car that might as well be 1,000 miles,” said Hollis.
Haney stated the board understood the concerns and this is not a change they have taken lightly. In fact it is something they have been discussing and working on for quite some time. He also noted any registered voter can vote by absentee ballot as well. Gone are the days of having to meet one of seven or eight acceptable excuses in order to receive an absentee ballot, citizens can request one by mail simply because they want to avoid the lines.
“Early voting is really what is driving our decisions,” said Haney. “I realize some are elderly and don’t get out much, but we can send a ballot to their home and they can vote that way also.”
Haney stated the board had received the support of the County Commissioners on this change and they will make sure to announce the changes through every avenue possible and educate the public.
The new precinct breakdown is as follows:
• Atwater, Reeves, Redbone and The Rock will now be combined into the Redbone precinct and will vote at New Hope Baptist Church, located at 1165 Hannah’s Mill Road in Thomaston.
• The Salem precinct will stay the same and voting will take place at Salem Baptist Church, located at 1349 Highway 80 in the Salem community.
• The Town and Lincoln Park precincts will combine to form the Town precinct and will vote at the Civic Center, located at 101 Civic Center Drive in Thomaston.
• Yatesville and The Jug precincts will combine into the Yatesville precinct and will vote at the Yatesville Community Center located at 10 Empire Street in Yatesville.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1