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Newton elections board likely to wait on precinct changes until 2023
2020 runoff voting
James Hendrix of Covington casts his ballot at the Washington Street Community Center voting location in 2020. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON Ga. — The Secretary of State’s office is recommending Newton County Board of Elections members wait to implement a complete overhaul of voting precincts until next year because of redistricting’s impact on the plan.

Chairman Phil Johnson also said Monday, Jan. 10, the elections office must find some new voting locations for existing precincts after a number of churches said they did not want to host elections this year.

The Board voted Nov. 8 to reduce the current 22 voting precincts to 17 in an effort to equalize the wide-ranging numbers of registered voters now assigned to election precincts.

Johnson said last week the lack of staff and time involved in redrawing precincts based on new districts for state and congressional seats made it difficult to make other changes in time for this year’s election cycle.

The Secretary of State’s office set a deadline of Feb. 18 for local election offices to send a final list of voting locations, he said.

Johnson said the precinct list the Board approved Nov. 8 was “far superior to what we have now” but the redistricting process made the change too complicated. 

“It was too big a bite to do both at the same time,” he said.

In addition, Board members agreed they may need to set a special meeting after deciding to wait to take action on voting location changes Johnson suggested during the meeting Jan. 10.

The Board voted Nov. 8 to approve advance voting locations at the Turner Lake building at 6185 Turner Lake Road in Covington, and Zion Baptist Church at 7037 Hwy. 212 in west Newton County. 

But Johnson said last week leaders at some churches that served as Election Day voting locations said they did not want their buildings to be used this year, Johnson said.

Concerns such as COVID-19 and the cost of utilities needed during two elections were likely contributors to their decisions, he said.

The elections office needs to find a replacement for Zion Baptist after its leaders said they did not want their building to serve as an early voting location because it would require it to be open for three consecutive weeks, he said.

Another church said it did not want to host the Brick Store precinct. Johnson said he proposed combining the Brick Store and Hub precincts and have voters in both cast ballots at St. Augustine Catholic Church on U.S. Hwy. 278.

He also said Washington Street Community Center was undergoing renovations and proposed use of the county’s R.L. Cousins building for the Town precinct voting location.

He also suggested Newton Baptist Church instead of the smaller Almon Community Center in the Almon precinct; Canaan church instead of County Line Baptist Church for the Livingston precinct; and Salem United Methodist Church instead of The Potter’s House in the Crowell precinct.