By Patrick Yost
A second hearing by the Morgan County Board of Elections regarding a proposed consolidation of voting precincts in Morgan County from 11 current precincts to five produced similar affirmations and dissent last Tuesday.
While proponents of the plan, primarily Republican voters, lauded the simplicity and projected cost savings, opponents, primarily Democrat voters, lambasted a perception of reduced opportunity and ease of voting.
In the end, after more than 90 minutes, neither side gave ground. “We’re not going to agree with each other,” said Patsy Harris, chairwoman of the Morgan County Democratic Party. “Not at all. I just want y’all to know, let’s not have the antagonism.”
The consolidation plan would dovetail precincts into current political districts for Morgan County Board of Commissioners and Morgan County Board of Education elections. Bobby Howington, elections supervisor, said the plan could save the county between $20,000 to $35,000 per year in staff reduction, advertising and ballot print bills. “Election costs have gone up and will continue to go up,” he said.
If approved by the Morgan County Board of Elections, the consolidation would begin with the 2014 election cycle.
For some, savings did not justify the proposed change. “Just keep in mind there are people in our community that don’t have the same conveniences we do,” said former Board of Elections member Alfred Murray.
“The perception is we haven’t done a good job advocating for black people to vote,” said the Rev. Charles Johnson.
Morgan County Board of Commissioners’ Donald Harris said cost savings palled compared to ease of voting. “We’re all for saving money,” he said. “But if saving money is going to discourage some people from voting, I’m against saving money.”
“Most of the people here (against the proposal) are from my district and I’m going to have to side with them.”
However, several people spoke in favor of the plan. Former Morgan County Board of Commissioner Ricky McGinnis asked for citizens to trust the board and Howington when it came to producing an equitable plan. “These citizens who serve on this board make good decisions,” he said. “they are not out to hurt anybody.”
Charles McClain said his precinct line had changed three times in his voting career but he had adapted. “I overcame that. I’ll give you (Howington) a chance. The people will get where they need to go to vote.”
Howington had earlier pointed out that there remains a 21-day early voting period during any election and absentee ballots are available. He also said research concluded that currently more than 50 percent of Morgan County voters vote early.
“I want to make it simple for everyone,” he said.
Should Morgan County close more than half of its voting precincts? Is 11 too many? Submit your own perspective on our website, MorganCountyCitizen.com or on our Facebook page.