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Saturday voting issue voted down

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- With a 4-1 vote, the Dougherty County Elections Board killed an effort to consider opening a polling place on a Saturday before the Nov. 2 general election.

Initially offered by the head of the Dougherty County Democratic Party, the board made the decision after hearing a report from Elections Supervisor Ginger Nickerson, who had previously been tasked by the board to do research on the cost and impact that allowing Saturday voting could have.

After nearly a week's worth of probing, Nickerson told board members that opening a precinct on a Saturday for four hours would cost in the neighborhood of $1,500 and that federal officials said that the window had all but closed to get approval from the Justice Department before the November election.

Given the information, board members Commodore Conyers, Freddye Phipps, Walter Blankenship and Chairman Allen Pendleton each voted against the measure with board member Lonzie White the lone dissenter.

Before the vote, White said he believed that the county could scrape up the money to open for one Saturday, even if it came from some kind of contingency fund operated by Administrator Richard Crowdis, in order to provide every opportunity for people to vote.

"It's inconceivable to me that he wouldn't be able to find the money and would have to go to the (Dougherty County) commission to ask for funding," White said.

Last week, the board unanimously voted to have Nickerson investigate the feasibility of opening voting up on a Saturday. The motion included asking Nickerson to go elected county officials to discuss funding.

But Wednesday, Nickerson said that during that Crowdis requested that instead of going to directly to the board of commissioners for funding options, that the board of elections would need to develop a formal funding request that would be presented to Crowdis who would then go before the County Commission for approval.

Pendleton said he supports the concept, but given the financial constraints currently plaguing local government, the lack of time to get approval from Justice, and the lack of evidence to support the need for Saturday voting, he felt no immediate need to support it.

"The cost isn't in the budget," Pendleton said. "In theory, I don't disagree with the idea of Saturday voting, but in light of current options -- 45 days early voting open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ... additional access to absentee ballots, it doesn't seem as though there is a need to warrant it."

Constance Burkes, the local Democratic party chief who raised the issue at the board's last monthly meeting, disagreed with the findings and said the board should strive to take every opportunity to ensure that access is granted to the polls.

"I just feel as though people feel discouraged about voting; that they're sluggish and apathetic to the process and that maybe extending voting into Saturday they won't have to worry about missing work to vote," Burkes said. "We just need to do everything we can to try and break the apathy and disillusionment of the voters in this community, and that means taking down as many roadblocks to the process as possible."