By Stephanie Johns
During the June meeting of the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration, members voted to hold public hearings at 7 p.m. July 25 and 30 in the Elections & Registration Office, 434 Hancock St., Madison.
Members of the board as well as office staff will share information about the proposed precinct consolidation at the hearings. Following the presentation they will take questions about the proposal from the public.
As Elections Supervisor Bobby Howington originally shared at the group’s December meeting, going from 11 precincts down to five not only will align the precincts with the county’s Board of Education and County Commission districts, it also may save thousands of dollars.
Howington has said such a consolidation may save as much as $13,000 during a general election year and as much as $40,000 during a presidential election year.
County Manager Michael Lamar said the county’s transit system will consider waiving its fees on voting days to help make consolidation easier on voters.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that Section Four of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is unconstitutional.
Howington later explained that this ruling makes Section Five of the act “unenforceable until Section Four is changed by Congress.”
“Basically Section Four is the formula for Section Five,” he said so with Four unconstitutional, Five is unenforceable.
The act required that certain states, including Georgia, had to receive pre-clearance for any changes made to voting procedures.
Consolidating precincts, under the act as it was, would have required an additional 60 days at a minimum, he said: “This gives us that time back.”
He said the board will still keep the public informed but once it makes its final decision, changes would be made as there’s no longer a submission requirement.
Board member David Moore said he has heard many say the amount saved through on solidation is a trivial amount.
“Forty-eight different departments submit itemized budgets (to the county),” he said. “If all saved like this board, it could save between $500,000 and $1 million countywide.”
Board member Avery Jackson said the cost argument rang hollow for him: “This county has resources.”
He noted that Morgan County was one of several counties to give millions of dollars in tax incentives to Baxter International, a medical manufacturing company coming to the area jointly owned by those same counties.
“If the county can afford to give away those incentives, it certainly can afford precincts we need for people,” he said.
Chair George Holt asked the board to vote regarding whether or not they wanted to proceed with consolidation.
Jackson said, “Quite frankly, I think we should keep what we have.”
Moore and two other board members, John Milliken and Helen Butler, wanted to pursue consolidation for the time being.
Lamar agreed to informally poll county commissioners about this.
Madison Councilman Michael Naples again voiced his concerns about the proposed consolidation, “It should not be tinkered with … don’t fix something that is not broken.”
He suggested the board instead determine what should be done about losing St. Paul’s AME Church as a voting precinct.
During their last meeting members learned that the church intends to use the previously available space for a pre-school.
Also at that meeting they learned that the City of Madison had denied its request to use its municipal building on Lions Club Road as a possible precinct site if consolidation succeeds.
Holt asked the board to reconsider its intergovernmental agreement with the city: “I don’t feel like working with a group, city, or government that won’t reciprocate with this board.”
The board voted to table Holt’s request until someone from the city could be present to discuss the matter.
To address voting precinct consolidation
July 25 and July 30
County Elections & Registration Office, 434 Hancock St., Madison