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Posted: May 16, 2013 7:59 p.m.

Newborn, Porterdale seek to make voting easier for residents

Newborn and Porterdale officials are hoping to streamline elections in their towns to help residents vote more easily whenever there are city and county elections in the same year.

City elections in Newton County take place in odd years, while county, state and federal elections take place in even years, but occasionally, cities and the county hold special elections, which can force some residents to go to two polling locations on the same day.

Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan originally brought up the issue to County Commissioner John Douglas, and the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted last week to have the county’s Board of Elections meet with Newborn officials.

That meeting took place Thursday morning, and Sheridan said it went well.

However, he said, officials now need to sit down with attorneys to navigate complicated federal voting laws and determine what’s possible.

“We were concerned about the fact it appears if the county is having an item on the ballot at the same time as the town is voting, then they would be in two different places, and people aren’t going to go to two different places to vote,” Sheridan said Thursday.

Currently, Newborn’s town elections are handled with paper ballots at Newborn Town Hall, 4224 Ga. Highway 142 E, while the nearest county polling precinct — where residents vote in county, state and federal elections — is at Newborn United Methodist Church, 118 Church St.

Porterdale officials discussed similar concerns at their Tuesday work session, and agreed to send a letter to Commissioner Levie Maddox asking for similar assistance for their city.

Porterdale’s city election voting takes place at the Porterdale Fire Department, 2 Main St., while the nearest county precinct, Cedar Shoals, is at the Porterdale Baptist Church on North Broad Street.

Porterdale also uses paper ballots for its city elections. Even if the county’s voting machines weren’t programmed to also handle city elections, Porterdale council members still felt it would be more convenient to at least have the paper ballots in the same building as the county election.

There also was discussion about the county’s Board of Elections handling early voting, but Sheridan said Thursday  it appears the town will have to continue to handle that.

The county currently handles early voting and elections for the city of Covington, and the city reimburses the county for the full costs of the election.

As of now, voting in Newborn is handled by the town clerk with the help of two hired poll workers in Newborn for the 21 days of early voting and Election Day.

Porterdale has handled its elections differently every year, but the city recently agreed to appoint Bobby Jack Savage as its poll manager for this year’s city elections.

City Manager Bob Thomson said Tuesday the only issue would be a potential conflict of interest if Savage had a relative who decides to run for office this year.

The city generally needs six people working the poll, said city clerk Megan Reid; typically, a combination of city employees and hired poll workers is used.

The city clerk serves as election supervisor for the city.

Former Porterdale city clerk Judy Johnson also received an official letter from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office stemming from a violation during the 2011 election.

During the counting of the ballots, a poll watcher handled paper ballots, which is not allowed under state law. Reid said only the elections supervisor, poll manager and poll workers can handle ballots, not poll watchers or anyone else.

Thomson said the letter wasn’t even really a slap on the hand, but more of a letter of instruction for future elections.

Mansfield also holds its city elections in a different place from its county voting precinct, but it’s unclear how city officials feel about the issue.

Oxford doesn’t have any such problem, because Oxford City Hall, 110 West Clark St., is the polling location for both city and county elections.

Sheridan said officials need to work fast if the any new system will be in place for this year’s city elections, as any change to a polling place has to be approved by the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which requires 60 days for approval.
All cities in Newton County, and Social Circle, will have elections this November, unless there are no challengers seeking office. Qualifying to run for local office for most cities takes place in either late August or early September at the respective city halls.

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