Board of Elections settles on 33 precincts

There will be fewer voting precincts in Macon-Bibb County in upcoming elections, but not as few as initially planned.

The Bibb County Board of Elections voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce the number of precincts to 33, a compromise from the initial proposal of 26.

“It was what we felt was a reasonable compromise plan,” board member Ronnie Miley said.

There are 40 precincts now, but that number was already set to drop to 37 because three schools previously used as voting locations are closing.

Besides a request from county officials for each department to trim 5 percent from its budget, there were specific concerns with some of the polling locations.

Some of them, such as Glenwood Hills Church, have insufficient parking, while the Macon Mall, which might seem to be an ideal place for voting, sometimes opened later than 7 a.m., the traditional start on election days. Miley said the issues at the mall were due to staffing there, not election workers.

“All of those are because of certain things that are out of our control or that create problems for us as a board,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Rinda Wilson said the board felt the need to modify its plan after hearing voter displeasure with the 26-precinct proposal.

“I was fine with the whole package,” she said. “Sometimes you have to take into account perceptions, even if you think it’s not correct.”

Those perceptions centered on politics and race, and those questions still weren’t completely resolved, the Rev. John Glover of Jordan Chapel said. He’s attended multiple meetings on the issue in recent weeks and expressed concerns that the move was meant to “restrict voting” in black and lower-income communities.

“I believe it was intentionally pointed toward the 2016 election,” he said.

Wilson addressed that notion, saying the plan would need approval from the Department of Justice.

“We’re still going to send it to the DOJ for review, so all concerns about suppression should be allayed,” she said.

In addition, board members said discussions were in place to have free public transportation on election days, but no plan has been finalized.

The changes, which also included precincts simply changing locations, were:

Cross Keys United Methodist Church precinct added to St. Paul AME Church;

Bernd Elementary School precinct moved to East Macon Recreation Center;

Precincts at Central Church of Christ and Pentecostal Temple combining at the Promise Center;

Glenwood Hills Church precinct moved to Beulahland Bible Church;

Macon Mall precinct added to Middle Georgia State University;

North Macon Presbyterian Church precinct added to Mabel White Memorial Baptist Church.

With the 33-precinct plan in place, board members were unsure if it will make the impact needed on the overall spending plan. They haven’t run the numbers yet, but Wilson knows there were other adjustments that could have been made.

“It’ll definitely cut some, not as much as it would’ve,” she said.

The plan also wasn’t enough to appease voters such as Glover. He said the right to accessible voting locations was worth “more than a million dollars,” adding that Macon-Bibb County actually needs 45 or 46 precincts to accommodate voters.

“I don’t think it was good enough,” he said. “My thinking is, they shouldn’t have cut any. They should’ve added some.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.