Lowndes second worst in Georgia for voting access

Maybe changing the precincts every year isn’t such a good idea: a new report rankings Lowndes County second worst in the state for voting access. And it’s not as if nobody has complained about this before.

Cody Gibson wrote for ValdostaToday 20 January 2014, Lowndes Ranks Second Worst in Georgia for Voting Access,

Lowndes County had the dubious honor of having the highest rate of provisional ballots cast in the state—more than 10 times higher than the state average. The extremely high deviation from the state average on this factor was largely responsible for Lowndes County’s position as one of the worst performers in the state. The report’s findings provide insights that can help officials, policymakers, and advocates better understand voting administration practices that work. By comparing voter access and experience across Georgia’s counties, officials can determine the best practices for ensuring that citizens have an equal opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

I’m not familiar with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, but that’s a very interesting study, Unequal Access: A County-by-County Analysis of Election Administration in Swing States in the 2012 Election by Anna Chu:

This report evaluates the election performance of counties in the 17 states that had the smallest margin of victory between the two presidential candidates in 2012. This analysis allows us to better understand how well the election process is working within a state, and will hopefully encourage state and local officials to consider how they can improve the voting experience for their citizens.

Many of those provisional ballots could have been because of people confused about where they should vote. Voting precincts have changed every election for years here. There were 9 precincts for 2013, 12 for 2012, 12 for 2011 (2011 precinct maps), 32 in 2008 and 35 in 2004 (2004 map).

2013 2012 2011
Pct 1Pct 1Hahira Historical Society
Precinct 1 Newsome St. Church
Pct 2Pct 2 Precinct 2 Old Pine Grove Elementary School Gym
Pct 3Trinity Presbyterian Church
Precinct 3 Westminister Presbyterian Church
Pct 3Pct 4 Precinct 4 Northside Baptist Church Gym
Pct 5 Precinct 5 Jaycee Park Activities Building
Pct 4Pct 6 Precinct 6 Naylor City Hall
Pct 7 Precinct 7 Wood Valley Community Center
Pct 5Pct 8 Precinct 8 Rainwater Conference Center
Pct 7Pct 9 Precinct 9 New Clyattville Fire Station
Pct 6Pct 10 Precinct 10 Mildred Hunter Community Center
Pct 8Pct 11 Precinct 11 Dasher City Hall
Pct 9Pct 12 Precinct 12 South Lowndes Recreation Center

For example, Trinity Presbyterian Church was a polling place for a while, but its precinct got consolidated into Pine Grove. I vote at Pine Grove, which currently is at the old elementary school, and was briefly at the church across the street. Before that I voted at Mt. Olive Church, but that one got consolidated. Way back I voted at the little special-purpose voting precinct building on Cat Creek Road, but those are no more.

35 Lowndes County voting sites in 2004

Now Deb Cox, Lowndes County Supervisor of Elections, has said that all this closing of precincts is because with early voting, which is all at the Board of Elections building, there’s not as much need for precincts on Election Day, and keeping many precincts open costs too much. Eventually apparently they plan to get down to around three precincts for the whole county. Maybe so, but the Board of Elections would do everybody a great service if they’d just cut to the chase and get to a precinct list that doesn’t change.

Plus there is still the issue that for example people in the East End District way back could walk to the Courthouse to vote, but now have to get a ride somewhere, and not everybody has a car.

Patrick Davis wrote for examiner.com 3 August 2012, Lowndes County’s precinct consolidation opens door to disenfranchisement,

This goes beyond that “we need to save money.”

This type of abrupt poll consolidation invites disenfranchisement. Longer lines at ‘consolidated’ poll locations, frustrated voters who may just walk out of line or machines that may break down unexpectedly is a perfect storm of events that will lead to more problems instead of efficiency.

Prior to 2010 elections, these (2008) precincts were “consolidated” in Lowndes County. Most were Valdosta City precincts. The percentages represents how well Barack Obama did on Election Day at those particular precincts in 2008.

He lists 9 precincts that have been consolidated. Mt. Olive Church and Lake Park Civic Center are on that list, as are seven others in the City of Valdosta. Five of those seven voted for Barack Obama in 2008, most by wide margins.

The only small precinct still open is in Naylor, apparently because local citizens there used a little-known provision that if you petition to keep your precinct open, it will stay open.

Why do the voting precincts have to change every year?

And what can we do to encourage people to vote, rather than confusing them every year?