It took some lengthy discussion from both sides of the argument but in the end, the Rockdale County Board of Elections and Registration did not approve Sunday voting for the early election process during its meeting Thursday afternoon.
Board member Karen James made the motion to approve Sunday voting as a part of in-person early voting, which runs Oct. 14-31. As part of the motion, the in-person voting polls would be open Oct. 26, the last Sunday of the month, between the hours of noon and 5 p.m.
"I understand that you as an individual, you find the time and you're able to vote between the (days and time available)," James said prior to the vote taking place. "That's great, but expand your mind to think that others may not."
Her motion died due to lack of a second.
Fellow board member Jonny Brown, Sr. was vehemently against the proposed Sunday voting idea mainly for religious reasons. He cited the Ten Commandments from the Bible as his evidence.
"It's as plain as it can be in the Ten Commandments. The good lord spent more time on the fourth commandment than any of the other nine," he said. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath, meaning you shall do no work."
Chairman William Todd elected not to vote for or against the proposal saying, "My mind is not completely made up." Lack of knowledge and time to study the idea of Sunday voting contributed to his indecision.
Todd said that he just found out this was an issue with citizens a few days ago when a number of people started calling him asking about Sunday voting. He even asked the attendees at the meeting when did they become concerned with Sunday voting and why the issue was brought to the board's attention at its previous meeting in August.
"I wish this issue would've been brought up months ago, so we would've had time to study it and make a better decision," he said after the meeting. "This issue can be revisited at a later time."
Adding Sunday voting to the early voting process would cost close to $2,500, according to Supervisor of Elections Cynthia Welch. That money would be used to staff the early voting site with board of elections staff and six poll workers.
Using volunteers wouldn't be an option.
"We would not know how many people plan to come out to early vote, but we would want to be prepared for crowds," said Welch.
Rockdale County has a total of 56,653 registered voters with 28,508 being active voters.
A general consensus among advocates for the voting on Sunday is that most citizens of Rockdale work numerous hours throughout the week and Saturday, so Sunday could be the only time they have to vote early.
Plus, even with Saturday voting being available, Saturday is usually a day reserved for family time and family activities, said Gary King, first-vice president of the Rockdale County branch of the NAACP.
"So the Sunday voting is another tool in which they could use to go out and cast their votes," said King.
But Rockdale County citizen Eleanor Toppins said that's not a good enough reason to begin Sunday voting. She said she's worked all her life, doing full-time and overtime shifts, and has always managed to cast her ballot.
"To me there's no excuse for anyone not being able to vote on the days that we have assigned," said Toppins. "If they can't get there... something's wrong because there's time there for everybody. I don't think there's any reason for this."
Rockdale County citizen Bradley Williams said he works about 60 hours a week between his multiple jobs and having early Sunday voting would help him and his friends, who are all in their 20s, get to the ballots earlier.
"I see it as a good opportunity for those who are younger, who schedule more things on Saturday and less things on Sunday, for them to have an opportunity to vote as well as anyone who has extra workloads," said Williams.
Williams also made a suggestion on how to lower the cost of implementing Sunday voting.
"Additionally, as a way to defray the cost, what we could do is subtract 30 minutes from the end time of each day of voting, or from the beginning of each day of voting, and add that to the Sunday," said Williams. "Just doing that one time adds approximately six hours for Sunday at no additional cost to the tax payers."
But, even if you can't make it to the polls during the week, you can still vote early without ever leaving your home, said Rockdale County citizen Eleanor Davis.
An absentee ballot card can be requested through e-mail to the Board of Elections office and, once received, can be mailed back with the voter's ballots cast.
"You could vote form the convenience of your own home through your mailbox," said Davis. "So everyone is afforded an opportunity to vote."
Plus, she said that early votes on Saturday only account for 1% of votes, so she doesn't see how Sunday voting would be any different or better. Welch corroborated Davis' figures.
"Saturday to me doesn't look economical... (And) if we don't have much of a turnout on Saturday, what is the point of having a Sunday voting," said Davis. "I think that Sunday is the Sabbath and we shouldn't vote."
The day of rest
Like Brown, a few of the other naysayers stated religious reasons as their apprehension with wanting Sunday voting.
Davis stated she observes Sunday as the Sabbath and Rockdale County resident Don Myer said it would be un-Christian like to have voting polls open on Sunday.
Eric Lee, pastor at Springfield Baptist Church, spoke in favor of Sunday voting and against Sunday being the Sabbath stating that he believes Saturday is the day of rest.
"In order for Conyers to not be a Ferguson, it would appear that we would want as many people as active and participating in public discourse as possible," said Lee. "It would seem the objective of this board would be to not look for ways to make voting more difficult, but how to make voting that much more convenient."
League of Women Voters of Georgia President Elizabeth Poythress said that for other religions or denominations see Saturday as the Sabbath and it's unfair to them that we vote on their day of rest.
"I spoke to some people in the Jewish community and they said, ‘I don't go to Saturday voting. I don't want to go to Saturday voting.' They can't go to Saturday voting, so they would like a Sunday," she said. "For those people, we need to make accommodations. For anyone that needs to vote on any particular day, I think we need to make accommodations."
Rockdale County resident Jacquiline Johnson-Dickson echoed those sentiments.
"I think it is presumptions for us to assume that everybody is Christian and Sunday is a holy day for everybody," said Johnson-Dickson. "Sunday voting, I think... It shows that we are a people who regardless of race, color, creed or religion extend all rights to everyone."
Nays versus yays
Using a bit of an unorthodox method for the public comment period, the board elected to have each naysayer and yaysayer speak one after the other about the subject.
It didn't seem fair if one group gets the last word simply because that group had the opportunity to speak last, Todd suggested.
Todd called the people out using the public comment cards turned in at the beginning of the meeting and had the 14 people move from the center seating in Lobby C of the Government Annex building, 1400 Parker Road, Conyers, to seat at two elongated tables, one for the nays and one for the yays, on the side of the room.
As Todd called their name, the citizen would stand, giving their perspective on the issue and then sit back down and let someone else speak from the opposing side.
"We haven't done it quite this way before, but since this is a brand new issue, the first time we're hearing about it, having been a lawyer and trained in the courtroom, I like to hear arguments, all arguments," said Todd.
This method proved a little bit awkward as some of the citizens began to speak out of order and argue with those at the opposing table.
The racial make-up of the table was brought up by Rockdale resident Jacquiline Johnson-Dickson, a supporter of Sunday voting, after Todd asked the public comment speakers to raise their hands if they were a Democrat or Republican.
The table of yay-sayers featured five black people and two white people. The naysayers table had seven white people.
Sunday voting in Georgia
Other counties have been dealing with this issue of Sunday voting around the state.
According to Welch, out of the 159 counties in Georgia, only four have approved Sunday voting, including DeKalb, Fulton, Clayton and Lowndes counties.
Like Rockdale County, Gwinnett and Walton Counties had motions to approve Sunday voting die due to lack of a second.
Fayette County's board of election had a meeting Tuesday about Sunday voting but due to lack of information, deferred the item to be discussed at a later date.
Macon and Bibb Counties held meetings to determine if they would have Sunday voting. The results of those meetings aren't known as of yet, but the board of commissioners in both counties allocated additional funds for Sunday voting if approved.