How far would you drive to vote?

By Laura Ann Sills - email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - How many extra miles would you drive to cast your ballot? It's an issue that has people in Columbus talking.  Thursday the Board of Elections voted to consolidate 20 voting precincts.  This decision has some local groups worried about civil rights.

By a vote of 3-1 the Muscogee County Board of Elections decided to decrease the number of voting precincts in Columbus.  A decision Elections Board Chairman Margaret Jenkins supports, "By studying the precincts and see what's best, trying to save money, technology. Those are the things that went into it."

But, not everyone feels the same way.  "When you already have made a decision on what precincts to close and then have a town hall meeting, that's like taking a wagon, sitting in the wagon with the horses tied to the back and telling the wagon to go," says Marcus Hunter, Columbus NAACP.

Currently, 48 voting locations exist, but the new plan makes that number to 28.  This leaves some voters driving longer distances to cast their ballots.  Dr. Jeanne Dugas is the chair of the Muscogee County Democratic Party and she says, "I think that the board of elections when they say they're acting in the public's interest, they're not acting in that particular public's interest."

"The changes that they're proposing to make will hurt African Americans and Hispanic voters.  Let's be sure about that," says Hunter.

Now that the Elections Board has put their stamp of approval on the consolidation the decision must go to the Department of Justice for review.

But, before that happens, the board was asked to submit the names of people involved in racial and language groups to the department of justice.

The problem is, those names were all board of elections members.

Hunter posed this question, "You tell me how does that look to you, out of all the 190,000 people that live in the city of Columbus, GA why does the three that they submit make all have to be board members?"

Dr. Dugas says she will be writing a letter to the Department of Justice to make them aware of the problems she foresees.

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