The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections is expected to approve a new voting precinct following controversy surrounding a sheriff’s office precinct.
The elections board is set to vote May 16 on temporarily moving a precinct to a church facility after board members received pushback to a plan to use a sheriff’s office building as the voting precinct. Various civil rights groups, including the Georgia NAACP, have spoken out against using the sheriff’s building, located at the corner of Second Street and Houston Avenue, as a polling place because it could alienate some minorities from voting.
The new proposed site is the Milton Bivins Jr. Challenge Center, 2584 Houston Ave., which is owned by Macedonia Baptist Church. The elections board is forced to temporarily move the regular precinct from Memorial Gym while renovations are ongoing.
“The petition contained signatures in excess of 20 percent of voters in the precinct,” County Attorney Judd Drake said during Monday’s elections board meeting. “The law states in that instance you cannot move it into that (sheriff’s building) location.”
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Gwen Westbrook, president of the Macon-Bibb NAACP, said that while the elections board did not intentionally try to disenfranchise voters, the board should have better taken voters’ concerns into consideration. On April 20, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, protested outside the Board of Elections office.
“Sheriff (David) Davis has worked hard to build a relationship with community and police, but that’s still a work in progress,” Westbrook said.
Elections board member Herbert Spangler said he didn’t understand why some people would be uncomfortable voting at a sheriff’s precinct. Cassandra Powell, elections board chairwoman, said there were never any problems when she used to vote at a law enforcement precinct in her district. However, there have been some safety concerns regarding shootings at Memorial Gym that has worried some voters, she said.
A sheriff’s precinct is “the safest place in town,” Powell said.
This year’s busy election calendar resumes on May 24 with multiple local, state and federal races on the ballot. Any potential runoffs would take place July 26. Memorial’s renovations are expected to be finished in time for the November U.S. presidential election, Drake said.
Details of the polling change will run for two consecutive weeks in The Telegraph, the county’s official legal organ. The elections board rescheduled a previous vote on changing the polling site because enough notice had not been given to residents.