Council considers potential voting precinct changes

Published 9:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

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Voting in LaGrange could be consolidated from seven precincts to four in an effort to take polling locations out of schools.

Elections Supervisor Andy Harper answered questions on the proposed changes at the LaGrange City Council work session Tuesday.

Under the initial proposal, the Gardner (Board of Education), Highland (Troup High) and Northside (Hope Academy) precincts would close and be consolidated into the Hollis (Hollis Hand Elementary), Administration (County Admin building), Hammett (Faith Baptist Church) and Griggs (William Griggs Center) precincts.

Harper said the Troup County School System has requested that schools no longer be used for polling locations.

Bill Stump, chairman of the Troup County Board of Elections, said the school system has been asking about this for some time, but they have gotten more insistent in recent months.

City Manager Meg Kelsey said early voting has changed the dynamic of how and where people vote. About half of the voters are going to the Troup County Government Center to early vote, so that’s reducing foot traffic in precincts on Election Day.

The preliminary proposal would have the Hollis precinct moved from the elementary school to the LaGrange Memorial Library. The majority of the Northside precinct would also be moved into the Hollis precinct district from Hope Academy.

The Gardner precinct would be absorbed into the Hammett precinct, and people can continue to vote at Faith Baptist, which has hosted many elections.

The Griggs precinct would take in Highland, which is the Troup High voting location.

There would be no change for the Administration precinct, and people would continue to vote at the administration building on Dallis St.

Kelsey said that this is just a preliminary discussion and that any potential change couldn’t happen before the mayoral election in March.

Councilman Nathan Gaskin pushed back on the proposal saying that schools should just be closed on election days.

“The problem I have with that is if the teachers want a work day, they close the school. If the teachers feel like there’s ice on the road, they close the schools. What’s wrong with closing the school on election day?” Gaskin said.

Gaskin also asked if any student has ever been hurt during the voting process, to which Councilman Willie Edmondson immediately responded, “One would be too many.” Edmondson resigned his seat at the end of the meeting to run for mayor but was still a councilman during the work session. Jim Arrington also resigned to run for mayor.

The majority consensus from the council was against reducing the number of precincts, but they noted new locations need to be found to move polling precincts out of schools.

“The problem is finding a building in each location. I’ve been looking at this for probably six to eight months now,” Harper said.

Harper said that they were originally told to try to get out of churches but some churches have been successful precincts. The issue is that many churches aren’t ADA compliant, he said.

Stump said this is just a starting point and they are still searching for new polling places.

“Dr. Shumate thought it would be in the school’s best interests to get all the polling places out of schools. So, we’re looking for new polling places to accommodate that.” Stump said.

Stump said school polling locations are also problematic to get in and out in the mornings and early afternoons.

“Two of the polling places, Hollis Hand and Hillcrest, are coming to a point where it’s hard to get in and out during when the kids are being dropped off or when they’re being picked up.”

Stump said the ultimate goal is to have all the polling places in city or county buildings.

“Long-term, the state of Georgia is looking at instead of having precincts, they’re looking at are you have voting locations. So, with seven precincts in Troup County, maybe we’d have five voting locations. So it doesn’t matter where you live,” Stump said.

“If I’m in Hogansville, I can just walk into the polling place up there, bring up my information, generate the ballot I’m supposed to have and vote there. With the technology we have now, that just makes sense.”

Stump said the board of elections doesn’t have an official agreement with the schools to use them as polling locations, but they want to honor their request.

Shumate acknowledged the tradition of voting in schools and the difficulty of finding new polling locations.

“Schools are paid for with taxpayer money. We totally understand that, but we just felt like student safety is number one,” Shumate said.

Shumate said with polling places in schools any random people can get in and potentially have access to kids.

“We don’t know if they’re citizens of Troup County or not when the building’s open like that. You can have anybody walking in those front doors and with a little bit of movement could get access to kids. We don’t want that to happen,” Shumate said.