Charles E. Richardson

Majoring in the minor with the Godfrey 2 precinct in the balance

I hate to be the one to tell others how to do their business, but sometimes I just have to open my mouth. In case you weren’t aware, it’s election season, and people losing their minds around elections is a normal state of affairs. This season, however, with the race for the presidency leading the way, the craziness has reached an unheard-of level. We can’t do anything about that federal-level lunacy, but we can do something about people losing their minds locally.

Case in point. Dare I say it? The Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have their pants in a wad because one of the voting precincts, Godfrey 2, was to be located in the sheriff’s building at Second Street and Houston Avenue. Godfrey 2’s regular location, a couple of blocks away at Memorial Gym, is being renovated. That work should be finished before the general election in November.

Words like disenfranchisement, alienation and voter suppression have been tossed around, and the above said groups demonstrated outside the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections offices last month. At that protest, Francys Johnson, state president of the Georgia NAACP, presented a petition with 400 signatures demanding the precinct be moved. He said, “I call upon the Board of Elections to listen to (residents’) concerns and relocate this particular polling place to a place that is convenient to this community ... and not a place that is marred by distrust like the police (building).”

Maybe I’m missing something. Just maybe I’m the crazy one here. Maybe I’m just an old fuddy duddy, but, I don’t see the sheriff’s office marred by distrust. I’m not blind. I know there have been issues as the two departments — city and county — were merged, but what I see now is accountability. Deputies who screw up get gone, get demoted or get arrested. Sheriff David Davis has taken his deputies and command staff to the street to interact with various neighborhoods in positive ways.

Again, far be it for me to tell folks what is important, but if I were asked how I would spend my time leading one of these organizations, I would spend my precious time not arguing about a single polling place in a police precinct that would only be used once. I would be knocking on doors trying to get more than the 235 voters who cast ballots in Godfrey 2 during the last mid-term elections, considering there are 1,417 registered voters in that precinct. That’s less than a 17 percent turnout. Godfrey 2 had one of the lowest vote totals in the county.

I would concentrate on voter education and voter turnout because, particularly in Godfrey 2, it’s not a matter of where people vote. It’s not a matter of voter intimidation, suppression or any other word you might want to use. It is a matter of not voting at all. Macon-Bibb County is not Arizona’s Maricopa County, where they cut 140 polling places after 2012 and voters waited for hours in March to cast their ballots. Getting all fired up about where the precinct is located is missing the point.

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back and offer congratulations saying that they “forced the Board of Elections to move the precinct away from the sheriff’s office.” But that victory will ring hollow if they can’t get those same 400 people who signed the petition to move the precinct to come back to the Milton Bivins Jr. Challenge Center, a block away, and vote.

It’s easy to hold up a few signs and cry foul. The hard and constant work is identifying areas of low voter turnout and canvasing those neighborhoods to identify the reasons people aren’t coming out to vote. It surely wasn’t because the precinct was in a sheriff’s building. Could it have been because Memorial Gym wasn’t considered safe? That’s an entirely different discussion for the NAACP and for the rest of us — including the sheriff.