Local News

Outraged Chatham Residents Question Election Board's Moves

Posted March 29, 2006 6:36 a.m. EST

— Some Chatham County voters fear the results from the next election are already determined, and the campaigns haven't even begun. They accuse the county's Board of Elections of making major decisions in secret that could manipulate the outcome of the election.

Trouble started before the board's meeting on Tuesday evening, when the room's limited capacity meant some people were forced to leave, or hang out through the window. The citizen's outrage stems from the board's decision to eliminate polling places in the county's most populated area and merge them.

The move creates mega-precincts of 4,500 voters even though the state recommends 1,500 people per precinct. Opponents fear crowding could turn voters off and that the move favors incumbents. But even worse, they say it was done in secret.

"I would've thought as a good management practice, or a simple courtesy that you would talk to somebody in the precincts involved before you did this," said concerned citizen George Meyer.

The county board said as a matter of law, every move it made was approved by the state Board of Elections. But the citizens say even if the board didn't act illegally, it acted dishonestly.

"If you were going to try very hard to do this entire process in the most objectionable way, you could not beat what they have done," said concerned citizen John Hammond.

"It's no secret," said board chairman Audrey Poe. "We meet on the second Tuesday of each month."

Poe said the issue has been talked about for months, and the decision was neither quick nor a surprise.

"Our job is to hold an impartial election, and I think that we do that," said Poe. "Our staff has integrity."

Chatham County's Board of Elections says it spent about $50,000 making improvements to polling sites. That's a move board members feel makes voting easier. They also plan to have more voting booths at the mega-precincts.