It’s still not clear why the Board of Elections couldn’t afford to keep precincts open, instead of closing more of them every year. But after several days of finger pointing this week, it looks like there will be funding to keep all the current precincts open. That’s good news, but if the fix was so easy, why was there ever a problem?
Oldest first, here’s a timeline of highlights.
Back on 10 March 2014, Deb Cox spoke to the Lowndes County Commission about the Board of Elections budget. I just listened to that video again. She did ask for more money for poll workers, and there were comments about how early voting wasn’t revenue-neutral. But I don’t see that she asked for money to keep precincts open, or ever mentioned precincts closing.
27 June 2014 I happened to see a public announcement of a Special Called Meeting 8 July 2014 of the Board of Elections to discuss precinct consolidation, for decision at a Regular Meeting for 22 July 2014.
Several people went to that 8 July 2014 Special Called Meeting, and discovered Mildred Hunter was among the precincts proposed to be closed. They also reported that the 22 July 2014 meeting had been rescheduled for 18 July 2014, although I never found any public announcement for that. They talked to the Board of Elections and the Lowndes County Commission, asking to keep Mildred Hunter open.
At the millage hearing 6PM Wednesday 16 July 2014, Dennis Marks asked for the Board of Elections to be funded enough not to have to close precincts.
Elections Supervisor Deb Cox replied to Dr. Marks the next day:
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2014 1:43 PM
Good news! Chairman Slaughter (thanks to you, I’m sure) just funded all the precincts for this fiscal year. NONE will be closed! Deb
But Chairman Slaughter quickly begged to differ:
From: Bill Slaughter
Sent: Thursday, July 17, 2014 3:35 PM
To: Dennis W Marks
Cc: Deb Cox; Joyce Evans; Crawford Powell; Demarcus Marshall; Madlyn Hightower; Ray Corbett; Carla C Jordan; Bikram Mohanty; Laverne Gaskins; Gretchen Quarterman
Subject: Re: Precinct Consolidation
Ladies & Gentlemen,
I need to make this real clear I have NOT agreed to any additional funding for the board of election, I have agreed to a meeting which has not been scheduled by the Board of Elections to address their decision to close four additional precincts!
I feel that decision has nothing to do with funding but goals that have been set by the Board of Elections!
So, remember that sureptitiously-rescheduled “Regular” meeting of the Board of Elections? It really did take place on 18 July 2014, and Dr. Marks reported:
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 2014 11:07:30 -0400
All’s well that ends well! The Lowndes County Board of Elections met this morning with County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter, Commissioner Joyce Evans, the County Manager Joe Pritchard, County Finance Director Stephanie Black, and others in attendance. Chairman Slaughter spoke in favor of keeping all current precincts open. The County Manager and the Elections Supervisor Deb Cox got into the weeds on the budget.
Bottom line: Elections budget is not being increased, but Chairman Slaughter did pledge to assist from contingency budget if needed. After additional supportive comments from other attendees and from Board of Elections members, the Board of Elections voted to keep all current precincts open.
My sincere thanks to everyone involved!
But I have a question. If keeping precincts open was a small enough budget item that it could be handled from contingency, why was precinct closing ever considered?
And will we see this same finger pointing next year?
For that matter, how about re-opening some precincts?
Oh, and it’s quite possible precincts would have been closed this year if I hadn’t happened to see that public notice. Perhaps both the County Commission and the Board of Elections could use better communications with the public.