County could discuss precinct consolidations

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Lincoln County Board of Supervisors discussion on newtouch-screen voting machines Monday veered into the possibility ofconsolidating some of the county’s 32 voting precincts.

Some board members, though, sounded less than receptive to theidea.

“That is a real bad mud hole in the middle of the road,” saidBobby J. Watts, District Two supervisor and board president.

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Watts was joined by District Three Supervisor Nolan EarlWilliamson in objecting to the changes. The supervisors said somepeople had been voting in the same location for many years andwould be very resistant to having to cast ballots elsewhere.

Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins emphasized that consolidationof voting precincts was not a recommendation being made by membersof the Lincoln County Election Commission.

“These are ideas that are being tossed around,” Watkins said.”Nothing is final.”

Watkins mentioned several ideas that surfaced during her recentmeeting with the commission. Consolidation ideas cited Mondayincluded:

* District One: East Lincoln and Fair River combining withForestry.

* District Two: Little Bahalia combining with Montgomery andBrignall combining with Rogers Circle.

* District Three: Norfield combining with Bogue Chitto.

Watkins said nothing was considered for Districts Four or Five.The clerk, however, alluded to possible benefits ofconsolidation.

“Some of these would be really economically feasible to lookinto,” Watkins said. “It would save the county a lot of money.”

Watkins also acknowledged supervisors’ concerns about votingplace changes.

“I know these are very sensitive issues,” Watkins said.

Watkins mentioned phone calls she received after anadministrative re-registration of voters following redistricting.The redistricting resulted in some voters having to vote indifferent precincts after supervisor district lines changed.

“You’re talking about doing things that are going to take a longtime to do,” Williamson said.

Any voting-related changes must be precleared by the U.S.Department of Justice. Bob Allen, board attorney, said that processwould take at least six months.

The voting precinct discussion followed Watkins’ comments on thenumber of new touch-screen voting machines election commissionersthink will be needed.

Lincoln County has opted to participate in a Help America VoteAct program, promoted by Secretary of State Eric Clark, in whichthe county is slated to receive 68 new machines. Watkins saidelection commissioners estimated the county could use 146machines.

“That leaves us with 78 to buy,” Watkins said.

At approximately $2,900 each, the county would have to pay morethan $226,000.

Watkins said commissioners considered how many may be needed forparty primary elections but added they also were aware the boardmay lower the number because of budget concerns. Supervisorsquestioned whether voter turnout would justify needing 146machines.

“If you figure on a 52 percent turnout, you can change thatnumber drastically,” said District Four Supervisor Doug Moak,alluding to unusually high voter participation in the lastpresidential election.

District One Supervisor the Rev. Jerry L. Wilson expressedopposition to the new voting machines.

“I’ve received letters not to go along with what Eric Clark issaying,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the letters had come from “higher ups.” After themeeting, though, he refused to identify who had sent theletters.

Supervisors suggested meeting with election commissioners todiscuss the voting machine and precinct consolidation issues. Moakindicated that all options could be on the table.

“I don’t think we should close our minds to any of it,” Moaksaid.

Supervisors and Watkins agreed the need for public education onthe new voting machines will be paramount. Having a demonstrationof the new machines for election officials and voters was anotheridea mentioned Monday.

Williamson said the first election with the new machines wouldbe “hectic.” He added that voters would get used to the new votingmethod.

“It’s going to be a learning experience for all of us,” Watkinssaid.