On Thursday, May 28, Macon-Bibb residents attempted to drive home the message that poll consolidation isn’t necessary and actually more polls should be opened across the city, especially in South Bibb. A healthy crowd assembled at the Macon-Bibb County Government Center and despite the healthy crowd, members of the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections were absent. However, the citizen advisory committee met with the community for the second time in three days and the recurring theme was that significantly reducing the number of polling locations in Macon-Bibb will cause longer lines and make it harder to cast a ballot along with disenfranchising Democratic voters exclusively.
One of the speakers at the public hearing was the local President of the Macon-Bibb NAACP, Gwen Westbrooks. With the overwhelming majority of the proposed polling places being targeted being in majority-black, majority Democratic neighborhoods, Westbrooks explains how the lack of transportation could adversely impact a voter’s ability to get to a polling place.
“Even the schools that are being proposed to close, to actually replace those and not just leave a location because we’re talking about a distance. We can’t count on the NAACP or any other organization providing rides to the polls. We have to actually look at each individual as I said to make sure that if they had to provide their own transportation would they be able to get to the polls,” Westbrooks said.
The following is a list of the precincts impacted, but the percentages to the left shows how much of the vote President Obama had won at each polling location in 2012:
94% East Macon 2
96% East Macon 5
79% East Macon 6
93% Godfrey 1
93% Godfrey 2
98% Godfrey 3
90% Godfrey 4
88% Godfrey 5
90% Godfrey 6
91% Hazzard 1
89% Hazzard 5
86% Hazzard 6
33% Howard 4
45% Howard 5
19% Howard 8
70% Vineville 1
70% Vineville 2
92% Vineville 3
94% Vineville 4
The only Republican-leaning precincts impacted are three of the smaller voting locations (Howard 4, Howard 5 and Howard 8). However, the overwhelming majority of predominately white, exclusively Republican precincts are left untouched by the Macon-Board of Elections. The Macon-Bibb Board of Elections have attempted to target majority-black voting locations and one example is GODFREY 3. The Macon Telegraph had written the following:
In past meetings, accessibility for handicapped voters has been listed as an issue at precincts, but Rolston Mondaizie, pastor of Central Church of Christ, said that doesn’t add up. His church is slated to be removed as a polling location, but the building is just 17 years old and meets all building codes, he said.
“So it’s very accessible,” he said. “We’ve had no problems at all serving the community.”
Mondaizie said he would like to discuss with the Board of Elections the reasons that Godfrey 3, the precinct that currently votes at Central Church of Christ, was proposed to be combined with Godfrey 1 and moved to the Promise Center on Anthony Road.
However, is the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections really interested in listening to the community?
Sarah Hunt spoke with Central Georgia’s largest television station –WMAZ-TV– and said the following:
“New tactics are coming about as measurements for hindering minority voters and so I’m very concerned that we stay on top of it as a people, work together and stay united. It’s not only Black people but poor people as being disenfranchised as far as voting is concerned,” Sarah Hunt, a concerned citizen said.
The Board of Elections has consistently pushed the narrative that cutting precincts will save money, but is it really about the money or is there a political motive to disenfranchise certain voters and target poorer neighborhoods? Elaine Lucas, who represents District 3 on the Bibb County Commission, was quoted in The Macon Telegraph and said the following:
“It’s a scheme by somebody to cause some problems,” she said.
While budgetary concerns also had been presented as a driving force for the changes at a meeting in January, Lucas, who serves on the commission’s Finance and Operations Committee, said there had been no discussion in committee or commission meetings about lowering the elections board’s budget by reducing precincts.
Information and comments received by the citizen’s advisory committee will be presented to the Bibb County Board of Elections at the June 9 meeting.