Lack of communication from state causes issues for board of elections

By TAYLOR COOPER

A lack of information from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office may disrupt the Glynn County Board of Elections’ plans to educate the public on the state’s new voting machines.

State officials announced last month that Georgia will purchase new voting machines for $112 million from the Canada-based Dominion Voting Systems. The purchase is part of an elections overhaul signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp in April.

Following the bill’s passage, local elections officials began laying the groundwork for a public information campaign to educate voters on how to use the machines in advance of upcoming elections in 2020.

At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the secretary of state’s office told local officials they would get a few voting machines early for training and public information purposes. Glynn County will not use the new machines in an election until the March 2020 presidential primary.

Two weeks into September, and he’s received no word on when those machines might arrive.

“This is government inaction,” said board member Tommy Clark. “They told us one thing, and now we’re learning the real story.”

Scheduling for poll worker training and public education with the new machines is contingent upon having them. Channell said he can’t begin scheduling until he knows when to expect the machines.

Also, the state now says it won’t be providing privacy protection measures for the voting machines.

In both materials provided by the secretary of state’s office and the proposal from Dominion, Channel said it seemed evident that the state was going to provide either booths for the machines or rolling carts.

Instead, the latest word is that the state will provide tote bags for the touch-screen and power supply components. Dominion does sell privacy screens for its machines, but local boards of elections may be stuck will the bill even for those, Channell said.

“Anyone looking at the proposal would interpret it as we’re getting booths or carts ... Now they say it was just an option,” Channell said.

He’ll know more after a meeting on Thursday with other elections officials in Bacon County, he said, but for now, a lot is up in the air.

If the local board of elections does have to purchase the privacy equipment itself, the county could be out a lot of money, he said.

“Our hands are being tied right now until we get more help from the state. It’s frustrating,” said board Chairwoman Patty Gibson.

In other business, the board continued discussing plans to move three polling places.

The Roosevelt Senior Center wasn’t interested in hosting a polling place, Channell said, which makes moving the polling place out of Burroughs-Molette Elementary School more difficult.

There are some Boys and Girls Club facilities in the area the board can use, however.

Channel said he thinks the elections office has found a good location to move the Oglethorpe Point Elementary School polling place — Golden Isles Presbyterian Church on St. Simons’ north end.

Board member Patricia Featherstone said she’s heard complaints about the distance between the two locations, explaining that they are only two or three miles apart.

Finally, Channell said plans may have been derailed to move the polling places in Marshes of Glynn Baptist Church and CenterPoint Church into Bay Harbor Church of God due to increasing rental fees.

While he’s aware of multiple polling places in other counties that occupy a single building, the secretary of state’s office told him it’s a no-go.

The board could combine the two voting precincts, but Channell said it would be preferable to keep them separate due to the usually high turnout in each.

He’s already found two locations the polling places could move to that would not cost the board any more than it had been paying at the other two churches.

The board will get a list of pros and cons for both options and decide at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 8.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Audrey Gibbons asked the board to consider expanding access to early voting.

The board recently voted to extend the hours that early voting polling places are open on Mondays, but Gibbons said the board should also consider opening them on Sundays.

Glynn County saw higher-than-average early voting turnout during the 2018 midterm elections, she said, adding that participation in early voting is only expected to grow. To accommodate everyone who wants to vote early, the board should consider opening the polls on Sundays during the general election in November 2020.

Gibson said the board would take her suggestion under advisement.

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