There were two separate meetings in Muscogee County today. First, the monthly board of elections meeting. Second, the public hearing on Sunday voting in Muscogee County, which about twenty (20) visitors attended.
The board opened the monthly meeting by noting that, though the public wasn’t aware of this, the board had actually already approved Sunday voting in Muscogee.
In the previous monthly board of elections meeting, the board discussed only providing Sunday voting for general primaries and general elections, not for special elections or runoffs.
The board discussed getting word out to the public regarding the board’s approval of Sunday voting but noted that they wanted to make it clear to the public that they (the public) would have to give something up in return for Sunday voting–possibly a Saturday.
The board proposed a plan in which registered voters would be able to vote at one precinct location (potentially the Citizens Service Center) from the first Monday of early voting through the final Friday of early voting. Under this new plan, early voting would be available for the full duration of the early voting period–but only at one precinct location.
Because of an unspecified budgetary crisis, when making the call on Sunday voting, the board was forced to either “completely fund” early voting (i.e. presumably, request additional, early voting funds from the board of commissioners) or eliminate one of the existing early voting days, in exchange for a Sunday. After consulting with the board of commissioners, the board decided to fund early voting for the full early voting timeframe provided under state law (twenty-one (21) days).
The board continued discussion in very vague terms from a previous meeting on unspecified precinct relocations.
The board then relocated to a larger meeting room and opened up the floor for public comments.
Reverend Johnny Flakes (Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church):
- Commended the board for doing “due diligence” regarding this issue and exploring options fully
- Suggested that voting hours be 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, to avoid religious discrimination against church-goers
- Suggested opening a precinct location at the mall, for convenience
Susan Stevenson (Citizen):
- Commended Rev. Flakes for his mall suggestion
- Wanted the maximum amount of time for citizens to vote
Dr. Green (First African Baptist Church):
- Recommended that Sunday voting be available at First African Baptist church as well (they have handicap access and other appropriate accommodations)
- Supported Rev. Flakes’ proposal regarding Sunday voting at mall precinct
Mark Lawrence (Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church):
- Wanted the board to consider housing the voting polls in existing, well-traversed and accessible locations around the city like churches, recreation centers, and malls, for accessibility to those who want to vote Monday through Sunday
- Wanted the locations throughout the city to be available for Sunday/early voting
Marqueese Avrick (Citizen):
- Noted that Sunday voting is very important
- Supported Rev. Flakes’ suggestion that voting be available at the mall, with the added suggestion that Sunday voting hours should be extended to 6:00 p.m. (when the mall closes) to give people a longer window of opportunity to vote
- Asked why there was not a voting precinct open at Columbus State University
Patricia Lassiter (Citizen):
- Suggested voting timeframe from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. on Sundays
- Supported opening a voting precinct at the mall
- Told the board that she was legally blind, can’t drive, and utilizes public transportation, which does not run on Sundays
- Continued that she is on public assistance and lives in public housing and needs to get on the bus and go to the museum in Ft. Benning to vote right now
- Noted that many families do not have the $1.30 each way to pay for each family member to go vote
- Suggested providing vans outside of public housing complexes to take people to vote, as residents of public housing are automatically registered
Theresa El-Amin (Regional Director of Southern Anti-Racism Network)
- Urged the board to look at the whole picture regarding health of the Muscogee County community
- Supported Sunday voting but encouraged looking at other things that affect turnout (such as a limited public transportation system)
Dominic Herkins (Data Director for Congressman Bishop’s campaign)
- Expressed concern about accessibility of locations
- Said that any potential Sunday voting locations should be evenly distributed in Muscogee County or centrally-located
After public comment, Member Boren immediately stood up to speak again.
Member Boren reminded everyone that volunteering a church for Sunday voting means that you are volunteering it for the full three weeks of early voting. The church must be kept secure and other voting-related accommodations must be made.
Member Boren made the following points about suggested locations:
- the mall is currently undergoing a lot of remodeling
- the board tries to keep regular hours for voting so that voters aren’t confused (e.g. if we have 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. voting on Sundays, we’d need to sustain those hours on every day of early voting)
- the board will continue to consider suggested sites to ensure accessibility and minimize voter confusion
- the board has looked at sites uptown, but findings have been inconclusive
The next public meeting will be in October.
Board Chair Jenkins thanked everyone for coming, saying that the board has noted all of their suggestions and will be seriously considering them. She continued on to say that she thought the best course of action would be to establish just one central location as the county’s budget likely couldn’t support locations in north and also south Muscogee.