The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration is scheduled to hold a called meeting at 5 p.m. on Dec. 22 to vote on a proposal to reduce the number of precincts in the county from 12 to eight.
The proposal is to combine two precincts that already use the same voting locations though they remain technically separate.
Farmington and Bishop, which vote at Bishop Baptist Church, would be combined, as would North High Shoals and North Oconee, which currently vote at Grace Fellowship Church.
Colham Ferry Precinct also would be merged with Antioch.
At present, Colham Ferry voters cast ballots at Poplar Springs Baptist Church, which is physically in the Antioch Precinct, while Antioch voters cast their ballots at Antioch Christian Church.
The fourth proposed merger is between Civic Center and East Oconee, formerly called Athens Academy.
The polling location for Civic Center voters is the Oconee County Civic Center, while East Oconee voters cast their ballots at Nations Church.
Merger of the eight precincts into four would save the county money, according to Rebecca Anglin, director of Elections and Registration for the county and chair of the Elections Board.
Anglin presented the members of the Board of Elections and Registration with the proposed merger at its regular meeting on Dec. 7.
|District Map With Registration Numbers Written In|
The Board also discussed a schedule conflict that could keep the county from using the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing, for early in-person voting for the May 24, 2022, Primary.
“We are brainstorming on possible locations that will meet our electrical capacity needs as well as crowd control/spacing issues,” Anglin said in an email to me on Dec. 8.
“We are also working closely with the county to see if changes can occur which would allow us to use the Civic Center,” she added.
The Board of Elections and Registration last year approved use of the Civic Center, rather than the Elections and Registration Office at 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville, for early in-person voting.
That change took place with the Nov. 3, 2020, election and has remained in place since.
Anglin shared a map of the county’s current 12 precincts with the Board at its meeting on Dec. 7 with the hand-written number of registered voters in each of the precincts as of the just-completed Nov. 2 election.
Farmington is the smallest precinct, and, by merging it with Bishop, the county would create a precinct that would be second smallest, just ahead of Bogart.
The North High Shoals and North Oconee merger and the Antioch and Colham Ferry mergers also would create precincts below the median or midpoint in size.
The merger of Civic Center and East Oconee, in contrast, would create a new precinct with 7,192 registered voters.
At present, Civic Center is the largest precinct, with 4,376 registered voters, while East Oconee is fifth largest, with 2,816 registered voters.
City Hall, which resulted from a merger in 2019 of City Hall and Annex Precincts, at present is third largest, with 3,900 registered voters.
The county had a total of 30,527 registered voters on Nov. 2.
Anglin said in her email on Dec. 8 that she expects the Board to vote on the consolidation at the called meeting on Dec. 22, which will be held at the Board of Elections and Registration office at 10 Court Street.
That vote would be final, she said. It does not need approval of the Board of Commissioners.
“Should this pass,” Anglin said, “this will save the county money and resources.”
The Board has struggled to find locations that are able to handle the electrical requirements of the voting equipment that was first used in last year’s elections as well as provide the needed privacy given the size of the voting machine displays.
Anglin did not specify the location of voting in the merged Antioch/Colham Ferry Precinct or in the merged Civic Center/East Oconee Precinct or the names that will be used for the four merged precincts.
Use of Early Voting
Anglin said in her email that the merger proposal reflects the fact that “The majority of our voters here opt to vote in advance.”
Anglin provided the Board with election data for eight elections going back to the delayed June 9, 2020, primary, and, summing across those elections, in each of the precincts except Farmington, a majority of the votes cast were advance in-person.
The file did not include the absentee ballots, some of which come in on election day.
In the Nov. 2 election this year, the first since the passage of the new state voting law, 66.5 percent of the voters county-wide cast their ballots in-person on election day, while 31.0 percent voted advanced in-person, and 2.5 percent voted absentee.
In each of the eight precincts being considered for merger, a majority voted in-person on election day in that most recent election, according to the data Anglin released.
The Civic Plus announcement of the meeting on Dec. 7 did not go out, and I missed the meeting.
Notice of it did appear on the web page of the Board of Elections and Registration, and it was announced at the last meeting on Nov. 4.
My report above is based on the agenda of the meeting and on information provided to me via Anglin.
The Board did meet on Nov. 4 to certify the results of the Nov. 2 election.
I have embedded that video below, recorded for me by Jennifer Stone, assistant director of Elections and Registration.
In the video, the participants are, left to right, Kirk Shook, Anglin, Ken Davis, and Doug Hammond. Jay Hanley was not able to attend the meeting.
Shook represents the Oconee County Republican Party, while Davis represents the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Hammond and Hanley are appointed by the Board of Commissioners, which just renewed their four-year terms.
With the changes in the state voting law, I suspect more people will vote in person, whether advance or on election day. In this case, the Civic Center/East Oconee merger will potentially yield too many voters on election day, which will not be well received if people have to wait in line for long periods of time. The other mergers are reasonable, but this one should be reconsidered.
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