The Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration voted unanimously in a called meeting last week to move forward with consolidation of eight precincts, reducing the total number of precincts in the county from 12 to eight.
Notices regarding the proposed changes will appear in the legal advertisements section of the Jan. 6 and 13 editions of The Oconee Enterprise, and citizens will have until Jan. 31 to comment on the proposed changes.
At a meeting on Jan. 31, the Board is expected to take action on the consolidation, which will become final once the Board acts.
The action will merge the East Oconee and Civic Center precincts, the Antioch and Colham Ferry precincts, the Farmington and Bishop precincts, and the North High Shoals and North Oconee precincts.
The Board also voted to place legal notices in the Enterprise regarding planned changes in the voting locations for the East Oconee and Antioch precincts.
Neither of the current locations is considered viable, and the proposed new locations would be used even without the mergers.
The relocations will be effective on Jan. 18, 2022.
Rebecca Anglin, director of Elections and Registration for the county, told the Board that the Civic Center is not available for early voting in the May 24 election and she still is seeking a different location as a replacement.
Language Of Notices
Anglin, who also chairs the Board of Elections and Registration, had proposed the consolidation of the precincts at the Board’s regular meeting on Dec. 7.
|Proposed Consolidation Map|
(Click To Enlarge)
In the called meeting last week--on Dec. 22--she read to the Board the language of the notices that have to be published in the county’s legal publication, or “legal organ,” before the Board can take final action.
In each case, the notice states that “The purpose of consolidating the two adjoining precincts is to promote easier access to voters and reduce cost to tax payers by saving on ballot printing, election supply costs, poll worker payroll, and other election expenses.
“This recommendation is also based on the steady increase of Early Voting over the past four years,” the statement continues.
“Anyone wishing to object to this consolidation may do so in writing, stating the reason for such objection, and file at the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, 10 Court Street, Watkinsville, GA 30677, or mail to P.O. Box 958, Watkinsville, GA 30677.
Filings must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Jan. 31, when the Board meets.
The Board is to consider those comments before making its final decision.
Update: Anglin informed me on Jan. 4 that the Election Board will meet on Jan. 31 only if there are objections for the Board to consider. If there are none, the changes will go into effect on Jan. 31 and the Board will meet next at its regular meeting on Feb. 1.
Background Of Changes
In August of 2020, the Board of Elections and Registration approved moving the voting locations of the Farmington and Bishop precincts from the community centers in those two villages to the Bishop Baptist Church, 1110 Old Bishop Road, inside the Bishop Precinct.
It also agreed to move the voting location of North High Shoals Precinct and North Oconee Precinct to Grace Baptist Church, 1120 Malcom Bridge Road, inside the North Oconee Precinct.
Prior to that decision, voting had been at North High Shoals Town Hall and at the North Oconee High School Field House.
The purpose of the move was to provide better space and adequate electrical power for the new voting equipment as well as move voting from educational facilities, which would have to be closed in the event of a lockdown.
Consolidation of the four precincts was discussed as a future option at that time.
The Board also approved in August of 2020 a move for what was then the Athens Academy Precinct to Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, if no alternative could be found.
In September, Fran Leathers, then director of Elections and Registration Board, told the Board she had found a new voting home for the Athens Academy Precinct at Nations Church, 8780 Macon Highway, just south of the entrance to Athens Ridge student apartment complex.
Leathers renamed the precinct East Oconee.
The Board of Elections and Registration also approved last year the move of the Colham Ferry voting location from the Colham Ferry Elementary School to Poplar Springs Baptist Church, 2700 Colham Ferry Road.
Poplar Spring Baptist Church actually is in Antioch Precinct, but Leathers had said she could not find a suitable location within the Colham Ferry Precinct itself.
Proposed Names And Locations
The changes proposed by the Board last week would merge the Bishop Precinct and the Farmington Precinct into Bishop Precinct, with voting at Bishop Baptist Church, 1110 Old Bishop Road.
North High Shoals Precinct and North Oconee Precinct would merge into North Oconee Precinct with voting at Grace Baptist Church, 1120 Malcom Bridge Road.
Antioch Precinct and Colham Ferry Precinct would merge into Colham Ferry Precinct with voting at Poplar Springs Baptist Church, 2700 Colham Ferry Road.
East Oconee Precinct and Civic Center Precinct would merge into Civic Center Precinct with voting at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road.
Polling Location Changes
Anglin told the Board last week that the current location for voting for the Antioch Precinct, Antioch Christian Church, 1100 Antioch Church Road, has created problems for the county, necessitating a move to the Poplar Springs Baptist Church regardless of the outcome of consolidation.
"We've had numerous voters call up and say they can't find where they need to vote," she said.
Cell service also is a problem at the location far south in the county, she said, and poll workers need to be able to contact the central office during elections.
Anglin said at the meeting last week that Nations Church plans to launch a daycare program in the area that has been used in the past for voting.
“The church was willing to let us use another part of the building,” Anglin said in an email message on Thursday, “but we had not further investigated if that would accommodate the electrical requirements needed.”
Instead, regardless of the outcome of consolidation, the voting location for East Oconee will be moved to Civic Center.
Consequences Of Changes
Without the mergers, results of each of the county’s current 12 precincts would continue to be counted separately, even with the polling location changes.
With the mergers, the distinctiveness of votes in Farmington, Bishop, North High Shoals, North Oconee, Colham Ferry, Antioch, East Oconee, and Civic Center precincts will be lost.
Currently, the 117th and 119th House Districts split Oconee County. Three precincts are in the 117th: Bogart, Marswood Hall, and East Oconee.
In November, the General Assembly approved a new 120th House District to replace the 117th, and it contains only two Oconee County precincts, Bogart and Marswood Hall.
East Oconee will be part of the new 121st House District, so the merger of East Oconee and Civic Center will put voters in both of the existing precincts in Civic Center and in the new 121st House District.
Redistricting thus will have no impact on the consolidation being proposed by the Elections Board.
The polling location changes will affect some voters.
The current East Oconee polling location at Nations Church is at the far end of the precinct, and Civic Center will be more central for many of the precinct’s voters.
Anglin told the Board last week that some East Oconee voters currently show up at the Civic Center to vote by mistake.
Anglin provided the Board at its Dec. 7 meeting with the 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.
The county had a total of 30,527 registered voters on Nov. 2.
Discussion At Meeting
"The consolidation of the precinct locations involves removing the lines, the boundary lines," Anglin said at last week’s meeting.
|Hammond, Hanley, Anglin, Shook, Davis (L-R) 12/22/2021|
None of the other precincts is affected by the mergers.
Anglin assured the Board that the Civic Center, which has been used in recent elections for early voting, can accommodate the large number of voters in the merged Civic Center Precinct.
"If you look at the number of in-person voters, we were far surpassing that per day when we were doing advance voting there,” Anglin said. “So we can definitely handle the numbers."
The Board consists of Ken Davis, Doug Hammond, Jay Hanley, and Kirk Shook, in addition to Anglin.
Davis is appointed by the Oconee County Democratic Party, while Shook is appointed by the Oconee County Republican Party.
Hammond and Hanley are appointed by the Board of Commissioners.
None of the Board members objected to any of the proposed changes.
Anglin told the Board that the Secretary of State Office is getting a new database that “is bringing us up to the 21st century."
Anglin said that analogy that is being used is "We are going from the horse and buggy to the Tesla."
Anglin said she and her staff are training on the system, which will be rolled out in March.
Anglin said the location for advance voting for the May 24, 2022, election "is still in the works."
A number of options are being explored, she said.
"Civic Center is out completely, unfortunately,” she said, because of prior scheduling.
The Civic Center will be available for the November election, she said.
The video below is of the meeting of the Board and Elections and Registration on Dec. 22.
Anglin allowed Hunter Fouche, elections assistant and technician, to place my camera and tripod in the room so the meeting could be recorded.
On the advice of my doctor, I waited outside and retrieved the camera and tripod from Fouche after the meeting ended.
The video begins with discussion of the consolidation and voting location changes.
Anglin began her director’s report at 19:19 in the video.