The Glynn County Board of Elections discussed Tuesday opening the early voting polls after regular business hours or on a single Sunday in future elections.
Board Chairwoman Patricia Gibson said voter advocacy group Women’s Voices of Glynn requested the board open the polls on at least one Sunday during early voting to increase access for those who work multiple jobs.
Currently, early voting runs for the 16 days preceding each election day, 15 weekdays and one Saturday.
“We don’t have to make a decision today, though we certainly can if the board chooses, but I wanted to put this on the agenda for us to give some consideration for future elections so we can give staff some direction as they’re planning for early voting,” Gibson said.
Board member Tommy Clark said the board was already providing more than enough options for people to vote: 16 days of early voting, absentee voting by mail-in ballot and the regular 12-hour election day.
He was also concerned about the money.
The Glynn County Commission has already set aside a good bit of money for the board to scan voter registration information into a digital database, open a third early voting polling location and to pay for any expenses related to the upcoming switch to new voting machines.
Asking the county for more might mean the board wouldn’t be able to call on the county commission when it really needed to, he said.
Board member Patricia Featherstone asked whether or not elections staff had done any research or if they would support the move or not.
Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said whether or not to open polls on a Sunday would be a policy decision for the board. He did note that the one Saturday the polls opened for early voting in the 2018 general election was the only day turnout didn’t break 1,000.
“The beauty of this arena, this area we’re participating in, is we have the benefit of the counts. We have the data, it just needs to be mined. So rather than starting with ‘I feel, I think, I believe, it seems,’ we should really be starting these discussions with ‘This is what the data shows,’” Featherstone said.
She then asked Channell to begin looking at how Saturday voting impacted turnout and, based on that, to estimate how much it would cost per vote to open the polls on a Sunday.
“Cost per vote is probably the most solid metric we will have,” Featherstone said.
Board member Sandy Dean fell on Clark’s side, as did Keith Rustin, saying the board provides ample opportunity for people to vote.
Rustin said he also didn’t want to go to the county commission again, fearing they would “push the envelope a little too much with getting money from the county.”
It’s obvious the county understands how important voting is or it wouldn’t have given the board as much as it had, but, like Clark, he didn’t want to keep asking for money and have the commission say “No” when they were in real need.
One doesn’t even have to leave their home to vote via absentee ballot, Dean said.
“I would never vote for it for this specific reason,” Dean said. “We already offer three weeks of early voting, absentees, what more can we do aside from going to their home with a voting machine and saying ‘Here.’”
Channell suggested “after-hours voting,” opening and closing the polls later on at least one day during the three-week early voting period.
“That’s a good idea ... Once a week we stagger a day and that won’t cost us anything,” Rustin said.
The board ultimately asked Channell to work on a proposal the board could vote on at a future meeting.
Paula Galland and Julie Jordan, members of Women’s Voices of Glynn, attended the meeting. Both believed after-hours voting is a great idea, but didn’t give up on Sunday voting entirely.
Jordan said a lot of counties offer Sunday voting, and they want the board to give voters as much access to the polls as possible.
Absentee voting is great and Galland recognized the lengths the board has gone to to make voting absentee easier, but she said it’s still too complicated for many and a lot of people simply prefer to vote at the polls.
In other business, the board discussed how best to disseminate information on new voting machines to the public.
Along with a series of changes to elections law, the Georgia General Assembly voted earlier this year to provide new voting machines for all 159 counties in the state. The new machines will feature a touchscreen and a paper ballot component.
County Public Information Officer Matthew Kent gave them a few options, saying he preferred to start with what he could do for free.
A video tutorial and brochures on how to use the new machines wouldn’t cost any money, he said, and both could be spread throughout the community on social media. He also said the county could approach local media outlets about getting the word out.
Gibson said the board was hoping to create a standard 10-12 minute video presentation they could take to civic groups around the county.
Doing so shouldn’t be too hard, as he’ll likely get plenty of footage to use on the first pass of recording, Kent said.
Board member Featherstone pointed out that the issue couldn’t be specific to Glynn County, and said they should ask the Georgia Secretary of State’s office what instructional materials it plans to develop.
“We don’t want to pay locally for information that’s provided by the state,” Gibson said.
Not much action could be taken as of yet, Gibson said, as the board didn’t actually know which voting machines the state was going to select.
The board also heard an update on its annual budget, appointed Featherstone to work with county attorneys to develop a public comment policy for the board and held a discussion in closed session on potential litigation.
Upon existing the closed session, board members voted to accept a recommendation from the county attorney’s office.
The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13.