Macon-Bibb polling location OK’d after sheriff’s precinct nixed

Macon-Bibb County voters who normally would cast ballots at Memorial Gym will vote at a church facility for the time being, election officials decided Monday.

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections unanimously approved moving the Godfrey 2 voting precinct to the Milton Bivins Jr. Challenge Center, 2584 Houston Ave., while renovations are underway at Memorial Gym. The decision comes after a petition received enough signatures to block a potential relocation to a Sheriff’s Office building that several civil rights organizations claim would disenfranchise some minority voters.

The challenge center is located across the street from Macedonia Baptist Church, which owns the property. The petition received signatures from 20 percent of registered and active voters in the district, which nullified plans to use the sheriff’s building, officials said.

Gwen Westbrooks, president of the Macon-Bibb County chapter of the NAACP, said she’s glad the petition was able to eliminate the sheriff’s building as an option. Westbrooks said she disagreed with the notion from some board members that having a sheriff’s building as a voter precinct would not affect voter morale.

“We’re looking at some of the same issues from the 1960s in 2016,” she said following Monday’s meeting.

The board approved the church-owned property for the May 24 general and primary elections that feature various local, state and federal races. That site also will be used for any necessary runoff elections July 26. Returning to Memorial Gym as a voting precinct likely will happen in the November general election. The recreation center’s renovations are running “ahead of schedule,” County Attorney Judd Drake said.

“It may not be completely done (by November), but it won’t be enough to interfere,” he said.

Another polling place change also was approved Monday because of the uncertainty of the fate of Macon Charter Academy.

The elections board approved having voters who cast ballots at MCA instead vote at the Bibb County Board of Education Welcome Center as early as July. The move comes as there is doubt if MCA will be open for a second school year.

The 151 Madison St. school will still be used for the May election before the switch to the welcome center at 2003 Riverside Drive.

“We need to be somewhere we know is going to be open,” Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson said.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph