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Federal Violations Impact Voter Access in Georgia

June 29, 2016
Source: The Dahlonega Nugget, GA

Lumpkin Voters Will Have One Polling Location in November

The clock is ticking on ADA compliance. And Lumpkin County is not going to make it.

With a deadline of November 8 imposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring all local polling locations into Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] compliance, the Board of Elections voted to consolidate all seven county precincts into one.

Parks & Rec will be the single polling place to cast a ballot in the 2016 General Election.

“Basically, there were three options, find new locations that were ADA compliant, make repairs, or consolidate the precincts into one building the county already owns,” said Dottie Krull, chair of the Elections Board.

“This is ADA driven, and theres just not that many buildings that are ADA compliant in Lumpkin County,” Chief Registrar and Elections Manager Ashley Peck told the Board of Commissioners at last weeks regular meeting.

A few of the fire stations in the county may be ADA compliant, but most are not. In addition, Krull said, there are other problems at those facilities.

“I used to vote at the one in Mill Creek. Its too small and there is not enough parking,” she said.

The estimated cost of modifying the current polling places runs from $55,000 to $65,000, and that is for exterior modifications alone.

“And that stirs up another hornets nest,” said Sallie Sorohan, one of the Democratic representatives on the board. “The other locations are all private property, and the county just cant go in and spend taxpayer money on private property.”

As for constructing new polling places in each precinct, the county would have to purchase property and build suitable facilities—a huge expense. Plus, said Peck, its doubtful it could be accomplished before the November 8 deadline set by DOJ.

“A lot of thought and discussion went into this, and Ashley did an enormous amount of research,” Krull said.

“We spoke to a professor of political science at the University of North Georgia and he said it was a good plan,” Peck said. “He generated mathematical models using Queueing Theory. What it found was that going from seven polling places to one would actually be 98 percent more efficient.”

“Given the concern that the current polling precincts were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and that the more accessible locations like schools and the hospital couldnt easily accommodate a full day of polling, the county seems to have done its homework,” said Bryson Payne, Ph.D, Director of the universitys Center for Cyber Operations Education and Professor of computer science.

“With over 300 parking spaces among City Hall, Parks & Rec and the Justice Center, support from the Sheriffs Department at the two intersections, full staffing, all the voting machines and a thoughtful plan for flow through the building, queuing theory would suggest that the average voters wait time should be better than at the previously separate polling locations,” Payne added.

The wait time, with 5,000 people voting—the maximum number of voters it is possible to serve at all seven precincts—wait time would drop from one hour to one minute.

“The first time we did this we thought, thats not possible,” Peck said. “So we did it again and got the same result.”

There are 114 parking spaces available adjacent to Parks & Rec, said Director Greg Walker.

“We [have] already cancelled all events, practices and games for Monday night (Nov. 7), all day Tuesday (election day) and Wednesday morning (Nov. 9) so they can bring in and remove the voting machines. We [are] working in concert with the county to make sure this is a smooth process for the voters,” he said.

In addition, the early voting poll at the elections office will be extended to 7 p.m. for the last week of early voting and the adding a second Saturday to the schedule should alleviate having to wait, Peck said.

In the November 4, 2014 general election, better than half of Lumpkin County voters cast early ballots or voted by absentee ballot—3,288 as opposed to the 4,485 who showed up at the polls. During this years primary, 1,706 voted early while 2,540 cast their ballot on election day.

Aside from meeting the federal requirements and the increase in efficiency, Peck said, there are other benefits to the consolidation.

“In addition to the estimated cost savings from not fixing the current locations—even if we could—there will be a continued estimated savings of $6,000 to $10,000 per election year,” she said. This would be due to a reduced need for poll workers.

Peck also predicts there will be fewer provisional ballots since the majority of provisional ballots are because a person is in the wrong polling place.

“I know this is going to be a hard sell for a lot of people, but time is of the essence, and thats why we [are] doing it,” said Sorohan.

“We [are] not doing this by our choice. Nobody on this end is asking for these changes,” Kurll said. “I think everybody enjoyed the convenience of having a polling place close to home. I [will] be driving into town now from the Mill Creek area and I [would] much rather go just down the road.”

“It was necessary. The county will be fined if we dont come into compliance, or we could be sued,” Sorohan said.

Public meetings on the change will be scheduled for each of the precincts, with the first one scheduled for the West precinct, Dahlonega Assembly of God for Tuesday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m. Philippi Community Center will host a meeting for the Northeast precinct Thursday, July 7, 6:30 p.m.; Auraria Community Clubhouse/Southwest precinct meeting will be Tuesday, July 12, 6:30 p.m.; and Dahlonega precincts meeting will take place Thursday, July 14, 6:30 p.m. at Parks & Rec. Other precincts will be scheduled at a later date.

The board also plans to spread the word about the change via the countys website, Facebook, speaking to civic groups and asking churches to let their congregations know about it by including it in their weekly programs.

In the general election this November, local voters will come to the Lumpkin County Parks & Rec building to cast their ballots.

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