Voters in five of Oconee County’s 12 precincts will be voting in a different location on Nov. 3 than in the past as a result of action taken by the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration last week.
Voters in Farmington and Bishop precincts will vote at Bishop Baptist Church, 1110 Old Bishop Road, rather than at the community centers of the two cities, as has been the case in the past.
Voters in North High Shoals and North Oconee precincts will vote at Grace Fellowship Church, 1120 Malcom Bridge Road, rather that at North High Shoals Town Hall and the North Oconee High School Field House.
Voters in Athens Academy Precinct, who currently vote at the Athens Academy Spartan Center at the school’s campus off U.S. 441, will vote at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, unless the county can find another location before the November election.
Though the Board has discussed consolidating these precincts, the action taken on Tuesday is stopgap to provide more space for equipment and voters at what is expected to be a heavy turnout election during an ongoing pandemic.
The Board on Tuesday also approved holding all early voting at the Civic Center rather than the Board of Elections and Registration Office, 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville, to provide needed space for that process as well.
Reasons for Changes
Elections and Registration Director Fran Leathers, who also chairs the Board, said on Tuesday that the existing facilities for Farmington, Bogart and North High Shoals precincts do not provide enough space to provide privacy to voters using the new voting screens and to provide spacing between voters in a heavy turnout election.
|Leathers, Jay Hanley, Ken Davis, Kirk Shook 8/4/2020|
The North Oconee High School Field House does provide adequate space, she said, but the Board has agreed to leave school properties because the election space would be blocked during any school lock down.
The voting space in the Spartan Center at Athens Academy is limited, she said, and could be problematic in the case of a lock down there as well.
The Board authorized Leathers to look for alternate sites for Athens Academy voting but to move the voting to Civic Center if she is unsuccessful.
The move to Bishop Baptist Church means Bishop voters will be voting in their precinct and only Farmington voters will be voting outside their precinct.
The move to Grace Fellowship means that North Oconee voters will remain in their precinct while voters at North High Shoals will be voting outside their precinct.
At its meeting in July, the Board agreed, without a formal vote, that Leathers should explore moving forward with actual merger of Farmington and Bishop, North High Shoals and North Oconee, and Athens Academy and Civic Center precincts.
No vote to do that was taken, and Leathers told the Board on Tuesday that its vote to move polling places for the November election was not a final merger decision.
At its July 16 meeting and again on Tuesday, Leathers told the Board that qualifying for the open Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 17 to 19 at the Board of Elections and Registration Office.
No primary is being held for that special election, necessitated by the death of William “Bubber” Wilkes this spring, so a candidates can pick the party she or he wishes to be listed on the ballot with her or his name.
The County has signed an Intergovernmental Agreement with Bishop, North High Shoals and Watkinsville to handle all aspects of their elections.
Qualifying for Posts 3 through 5 on the Watkinsville City Council will be held those same times and dates, also at the Board of Elections and Registration Office, Leathers said.
Those races are nonpartisan.
Leathers told the Board at the meeting on Tuesday that the county has about 3,000 “rollover absentee ballot requests.” (Assistant Director Jennifer Stone said in an email message after the meeting that the precise figure is 2,730.)
|Precinct Map And Current Polling Locations|
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These are elderly or medically restricted voters who indicated prior to the June 9 primary that they wanted to receive absentee ballots for elections for the remainder of the year.
The Secretary of State Office will do the mailing of ballots for these voters, Leathers said.
Leathers said her office is getting additional requests for absentee ballots “every day” and her office will do the mailing for these requests.
Other organizations are mailing out forms that voters can use to request an absentee ballot, she said. While this is legal, she said, it has created some confusion on the part of voters as neither her office nor the Secretary of State Office will be mailing out request forms.
The secure ballot return box for absentee ballots outside the Board of Elections and Registration won’t be open to receive ballots, Leathers said, until the Secretary of State authorizes it closer to the election.
At the July meeting of the Board of Elections and Registration, Board members expressed a desire to keep early voting at the office in Watkinsville.
Leathers had told them that the Civic Center had some events booked during that time and said she would explore alternate sites.
Leathers told the Board on Tuesday that the Civic Center had become available and recommended that only one location be used.
“As we’ve talked before,” she said, “we were concerned about the space here for early voting because we realized that this is going to be a much larger election than we’ve had in the past.”
With “the machines and the space and it is really logistically very difficult to put the number of machines that is necessary in there to accommodate everyone with the privacy issues and COVID issues,” she said.
Early voting will start on Oct. 12 and run through Oct. 30, she said. Saturday early voting will be on Oct. 24, she added, and she said she would consider adding an additional Saturday and even extending the hours during weekday voting.
The County has 30,726 registered voters, Leathers told the Board on Tuesday.
At the July meeting, she said she is expecting about 80 percent participation in the November election
At a called meeting on July 29, the Board approved the addition of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum for the ballot in November.
The Board of Commissioners had approved putting the question on the ballot at its meeting the night before.
Stone said in an email message on Friday morning that she had just received an email message from Axiver Harris with the Secretary of State Office informing the county that there will be a Special Election in Clarke and Oconee counties for the district attorney in the Western Judicial District.
“Notice is hereby given that a Special Election shall be held in Clarke and Oconee Counties on November 3, 2020 to fill the office of District Attorney, Western Judicial Circuit,” the attachment Stone received read. “A run-off, if needed, shall be held on December 1, 2020.
“Qualifying for the Special Election shall be held in the Elections Division of the Office of Secretary of State,” the notice continued.
A federal court in July ordered the state to hold the election, but the state has been fighting the preliminary injunction issued by the judge.
The first video below is of the Aug. 4 meeting of the Board of Elections and Registration.
I did not attend the meeting, but I gave a camera to Leathers and Stone, who set it up and recorded the meeting as a way of providing information to the public about the changes being discussed by the Board.
The second video below is of the called meeting of the Board on July 29.
Sarah Bell attended and recorded that meeting.
The third video below is of the July 16 meeting of the Board.
Philip Ashford attended the meeting and recorded the video.