Commission considers voting precinct consolidation

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

The Crenshaw County Commission held a public hearing on June 26 to discuss the possible closure of four voting precincts –  Bush’s Grocery Precinct 1, Panola Community Center Precinct 8, Patsburg Baptist Church Precinct 5, and Vidette Community Center Precinct 3. The meeting aimed to facilitate an open discussion between local officials and concerned citizens regarding the matter.

The hearing drew the attention of numerous citizens, including Stan Bowen of Lapine, who serves as the inspector at the Panola voting location. Bowen, a lifelong resident of the area, expressed his concerns about the proposed closure, emphasizing that the current voters at Panola would have to travel farther to vote at Danielsville. He acknowledged the cost concerns associated with maintaining the voting location and highlighted the fact that many of the voting population in the area are elderly and rely on obtaining a ride to the polling place, often having to pay for transportation. 

Bowen said he feared that closing the Panola voting location would not only result in a significant drop in voter turnout compared to other areas but also an increase in waiting times to cast a vote. 

“I do understand that our voting total divided into election costs is somewhat of an issue,” Bowen said. “However, the county owns the building so there is no rent and the electricity is on. The only real cost is for the poll workers so I don’t really see why cost would be a big problem. We have always had a good turnout and when others had 20% turnout or lower, we had upward of 30%. We feel like we are a well-blended representative of the county with the different ages and races that vote at Panola, and I appreciate your time and consideration.”

Another concerned citizen, Tom Perdue from District 5, represents Patsburg Baptist Church and stated that there was no opposition to the closing of their voting precinct.

Commissioner Raymond McGough addressed the attendees and explained the rationale behind the potential precinct closures. He acknowledged the dedicated service of poll workers and expressed appreciation for their efforts. McGough mentioned the challenge of filling vacant poll worker positions due to retirements and worker deaths. He also mentioned concerns about the additional travel distance that some citizens, particularly those in the Osbourne Road and Hickory Road area, would have to undertake to vote. However, he noted that citizens he had spoken with from that area did not express opposition to the proposed closures.

“We have a lot of people that have served diligently at the polls and we appreciate you all very much,” McGough said. “However, we have several poll workers that have passed away and others that have decided they don’t want to do it anymore and we have issues filling those public service positions. We do have a good community, and a very diverse community there. I very much appreciate you coming today, bringing up some things and I do appreciate your concerns.”

Commissioner Merrill Sport of District 3 addressed the concerns raised by constituents present at the hearing surrounding the possible closure of the Vidette Community Center Precinct 5. He pointed out the facility’s limitations, such as lack of year-round electricity and restroom facilities, also mentioning that the ownership of the facility was unclear. The declining voter numbers and aging population also contributed to the consideration of this closure according to Sport. 

Instead of redistributing voters to other precincts, Sport recommended utilizing the larger and more comfortable facility in Luverne. He also highlighted the cost and time associated with setting up polling places, which do not appear on financial statements.

Commissioner Charlie Sankey emphasized the fact that the commission’s decision to consider consolidating precincts was driven by the responsible use of taxpayers’ money. He assured constituents that the commissioners were attentive to their concerns and aimed to align their actions with the wishes of the community. 

Sankey also acknowledged the aging population and the need to identify replacements for the dedicated poll workers. He encouraged rational and open-minded discussions to ensure the continued smooth functioning of Crenshaw County elections.

“This has to do with several things,” Sankey said. “Number one, we are trying to prudently spend taxpayer dollars and these commissioners are very cognizant of your concerns and they have it in their hearts to make sure they do what their constituents want them to. We did realize with the last census that our citizenship is getting older and we are concerned about who will replace our selfless poll workers. However, the better we can mesh together and work together, the better chance we have at keeping good quality people running the polls so we continue to have no issues during Crenshaw County elections.”

County officials encouraged residents to continue participating in public hearings and other community events to ensure timely and effective resolution of concerns. The commission plans to carefully consider the input received before making any final decisions regarding the closure of the voting precincts. The next commissioner meeting will be held July 8 at 9 a.m.