Where, when and how Forsyth County voters will be able to vote in this year’s elections are beginning to take shape, but there is still time for the community to give their input.
At a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 1, members of the Forsyth County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections discussed several elections issues, including, absentee ballot drop boxes, times and locations for advance voting and changes to precincts, polling places and districts for this year’s elections.
Those topics will be discussed again, and possibly adopted, at the board’s special-called meeting on Friday, Feb. 11 at the Forsyth County Voter Registration and Elections office, 1201 Sawnee Drive. Public comments will be allowed at Friday’s meeting for the three topics.
To find and give input on a list of proposed new voting precincts and polling places, take part in a survey on early voting times, find information on becoming a poll worker or register to vote or change voter information, click here
Board members and county staff said information gathered from the county’s website through 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10 will be used to help make their final decisions on the proposals.
Input can also be given by calling Forsyth County Voter Registrations & Elections Director Mandi Smith at 770-781-2118, Ext. 9 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the elections office through noon on Feb. 11.
Here is a look at what was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.
Precinct, polling place and district changes
Along with new state and federal Congressional districts and possible new county commission districts, many Forsyth County voters will have new places to cast ballots in this year’s elections.
One item planned to be voted on at Friday’s meeting is a proposal that would up the number of precincts in Forsyth County to 28, an increase from 20 in the 2021 election.
While the additions would mean some new locations will be open, some previous polling places, including Central and Coal Mountain parks, will not be available this year due to other conflicts.
The proposal would also create new precincts of Fowler, Johns Creek, Nichols, Daces Creek, Mathis, West Forsyth, Grassland, Keith Bridge, Lakeland, Lanier, Mountainside, Sawmill Branch, River Club and Silver City.
The previous Browns Bridge, Polo and Sawnee precincts would be closed.
The discussion of new precincts comes along with ongoing debates of local district maps.
At the federal and state levels, changes to Georgia’s Congressional districts have been approved by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp, but are currently going through legal challenges.
Meanwhile in Forsyth County, local commissioners and school board members have discussed whether to go with a map proposal originally approved by both bodies in October and later rescinded by commissioners at a meeting in late January or another proposal approved by commissioners in January.
“Keep in mind, the fact that the board of commissioners and the board of education are recommending bodies when it comes to this,” Smith said. “Ultimately, the state delegation will be the ones to decide the ways the lines actually fall.”
The board of education had also discussed taking on the districts approved by commissioners on Monday, Jan. 30, though elections board member Joel Natt said he had heard from school officials they were not in favor as it would upset a balance in the numbers of schools represented.
“My understanding, from talking with a couple of school board members yesterday, was that the reason they were sticking with the October map was based on this school feeds to this school then to this school,” Natt said, “and each school board member kind of has a balanced number of high schools, balanced number of middle schools and elementary schools that they would get primary responsibility.”
Once 2022 polling places and precincts are set, elections officials and staff will contact voters to let them know what has changed for their area.
During the meeting, members approved a request to ask the county government for funding to mail out precinct meetings
Advance voting times and locations
Along with discussing where local residents will cast ballots, board members discussed how long they will be able to do so during the advance voting period in the weeks leading up to the election.
According to a staff recommendation given at the meeting, the current proposals for early voting the general election primary, nonpartisan general election on May 24 and general election on Nov. 8, would be open for three weeks, including two Saturdays, ahead of the election date.
Under the proposal, for the first week, including Saturday, of advance voting, voters will only cast ballots at the elections office.
Starting with the second week and continuing the following Saturday and the third week, early voting will be held at the elections office, Hampton Park Library and the community centers at Midway and Sharon Springs parks.
During advance voting, voters can cast ballots at any of the locations, though voters on election day will have to go to their precinct’s polling place.
For all advance voting, polls are proposed to be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first two weeks and during Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. the final week. Election Day voting is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
At Tuesday’s meeting, election members also heard from some members of the public about whether or not to allow advance voting on Sundays ahead of the election, which is already allowed in some counties in the state, including, recently, Cherokee and Hall counties.
“What this means is we have 143 counties in Georgia that do not have a Sunday vote option, and our organization is seeking that all 159 counties in Georgia would have equal access to the polls as these 16 counties currently have,” said Brandon Sims, with the group Look Ahead America. “If you look at the current 16 counties that offer this opportunity, it allows an opportunity to vote for all residents, but really, it is keying on faith-led voters, of which Forsyth County has a lot.”
Others said they were not in support of expanded voting, citing issues like costs and other available dates for early voting.
“If you find that difficult to get to vote with the early days that have been added, election, day and Saturdays, maybe you should need to vote by mail,” said Jerry Marinich, chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party. “Because if your life is that complicated and that restricted that you can’t do your civic duty and vote like you should with these days, then maybe you should vote my mail.”
Another early voting option, submitting ballots through a drop box, was discussed at the meeting.
First allowed in 2020, drop boxes have been a source of debate within the state, with the General Assembly passing and Gov. Brian Kemp signing laws to limit the boxes in March 2020. The law requires the boxes to be inside and only allows voters to drop ballots during the same hours as advance voting.
Elections staff recommend having one drop box, which will be located at the elections office.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board also recognized outgoing Democratic member Randy Ingram, who is retiring after serving on the board since 2015.
Former state House and board of education candidate Anita Tucker will replace Ingram on the board, which includes a nonpartisan chair and two officials each from the local Democratic and Republican parties.