VALDOSTA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia plans to attend the Lowndes County Board of Elections meeting Tuesday.
This comes after the ACLU sent Deb Cox, elections supervisor, a letter urging the election board to open a polling location at the Valdosta State University main campus.
Cox responded to the letter by inviting the ACLU to the Board of Elections meeting 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the elections office at 2808 N. Oak St.
In her response to the letter, Cox said the polling place was closed because students, faculty and staff did not utilize the location for early voting or Election Day voting.
“On a campus of thousands, 1,097 were registered to vote in that precinct,” Cox said. “Thirty-two actually voted, and only eight voted in the VSU polling place. The rest voted early or by mail, and there was only one provisional vote.”
She said many VSU students who vote either vote by mail or returning to their home counties and do not change their voter registration to Lowndes.
The ACLU letter stated the closure of the VSU polling location would have a “disproportionate impact on people of color.”
Cox responded by stating that all students have the options of voting by mail in their home or registered counties, voting by mail in Lowndes County, voting early with a free ride to and from the elections office or voting on the last day to vote in their assigned precinct.
She also refuted a statement in the letter that said the closest polling location for VSU students is nearly two miles away and is essentially unreachable for many students without cars.
“No one should have to walk an hour just to exercise their right to cast their ballot,” the letter stated.
Cox responded by saying the nearest polling location to VSU campus is 0.7 miles, according to the Rand McNally Driving Directions.
That location would be 200 E. Park Ave. at Northside Baptist Church. She said Lowndes County, in collaboration with both the Democratic and Republican parties, offers free rides, door to door, 365 days a year to the elections office, to early voting or to vote on Election Day in any polling place.
Another option is the VSU bus system, she said. It will take the students to North Campus for free and is 0.6 miles from the early voting location.
“Transportation for anything involved in the elections process is not an issue in Lowndes County,” Cox said. “No student or anyone else has to walk to vote unless they chose to do so.”
Other issues with opening the polling location is precinct lines would need to be redrawn and precinct cards sent out, Cox said. A secure location for a polling place would have to be procured in agreement with VSU.
The biggest problem, she said, is obtaining poll workers.
“We currently can’t recruit enough poll workers to staff the nine current precincts,” Cox said. “College students are notorious for not showing up for training or on Election Day. Georgia law requires a minimum staffing of three persons, which is insufficient to run a polling place.”
Cox said in her response that there were positives to reopening a VSU polling place in November 2019.
It would get students used to the idea of voting on campus before 2020 and possibly encourage voting among the college population, instructors and staff.
“Encouraging students to register to vote in Lowndes County would resolve a lot of issues,” Cox said. “The timing may be right to try a polling place on campus again, if students would step up and commit to being poll workers and attending training.
“At a minimum, it merits serious discussion and consideration.”