A Forsyth County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections meeting this week grew tense at times as members of the board discussed whether to extend hours and locations for early voting for the Jan. 5 runoff, though, ultimately, no changes were made.
Typically, election board meetings have few visitors, but the meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8 was so heavily attended, it was standing-room-only for many of those who showed up as the meeting was moved from its normal smaller room to a large warehouse area to accommodate all the guests.
While there were other items on the agenda, the two biggest topics were whether to expand advance voting hours or the number of early voting sites.
Advance voting for the runoff will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday, Dec. 14-18, Monday through Wednesday, Dec. 21-23 and Monday through Thursday, Dec. 28-31, and early voting will not be held on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
While all of Forsyth County's voting sites will be open on election day, five locations will open for advance voting will be:
- Forsyth County Voter Registration and Elections Office, 1201 Sawnee Drive, Cumming, GA 30040;
- Hampton Park Library, 5345 Settingdown Road, Cumming, GA 30041;
- Parks and Recreation Natural Resources operations Center, 1605 Canton Hwy., Cumming, GA 30040;
- Sharon Springs Park Community Building, 1950 Sharon Road, Cumming, GA 30041;
- Midway Park Community Building, 5100 Post Road. Cumming, GA 30040.
Keeping the number of early voting sites at six – which had been previously adopted rather than going to 11 sites, which was done for the Nov. 3 general election – was approved by a 4-0 vote, with Carla Radzikinas, one of the board’s two Republican appointees absent.
The vote to extend voting hours until 7 p.m. was a split 2-2 vote with Democratic appointees Matthew Blender and Randy Ingram in favor and Republican appointee Joel Natt and Chief Registrar and Chairwoman Barbara Luth, who is a non-partisan member of the board, opposed.
A previous vote to leave the hours unchanged was also a split 2-2 vote, with Natt and Luth in favor and Blender and Ingram against. Since both votes were a tie, that meant neither would pass, thus the hours would remain the same.
Ingram also proposed to open one Saturday for voting but did not receive a second for the motion.
As the board’s present Republican and Democratic members were divided on which action to take, speakers were also largely divided along party lines, with Republican speakers wanting the hours and locations to stay as previously approved and Democratic speakers favoring the proposed changes.
“Georgia law has plenty of opportunity for people to go vote,” said Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Patrick Bell. “Each employer is required to give their employees two hours off to go vote. We have no-reason absentee ballots, meaning anyone can get one for any reason or for no reason whatsoever.
“I think the expansion of these hours at this late of a date after they’ve been set for months and months and months will create chaos. Now, perhaps that’s the goal, I don’t know, but chaos is not what we need in elections.”
Concerns for expanding the hours included costs to the county, the strain on workers, some volunteers reporting having a lot of downtime during earlier advance voting and that it was the responsibility of voters to make time to go to the polls.
“A lot of us in this room have been voting for a while, we do not need more time to vote,” said one speaker opposed to the changes. “We will find the time to vote.”
Conversely, those in favor of the changes said the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. timeframe, lack of Saturday voting and fewer days to vote due to the holidays would limit when workers could make it to the polls.
“Somehow or other, you all, at least a number of speakers here, have stated for whatever reason that you have a problem with making it easier for people to vote,” said one speaker in favor of the changes, who said he served as a poll worker in the past but did not this year due to COVID-19 concerns. “Many of you are saying, ‘I did it. I can do it. Enough time for me.’ That may be true for some of you. That may be true for most of us, but the whole idea, and what this board has done year after year, is to try to maximize the [amount of time to vote.]”
When asked on two occasions during the meeting whether they supported keeping the previously approved hours or changing them, those in attendance at the meeting heavily favored keeping the hours the same.
Even after the meeting, which grew heated at times as many in attendance would cheer or jeer other speakers and bring up other grievances with the election that were not on the meeting’s agenda, with Luth trying several times to control the outbursts, the debate continued between the county’s Republican and Democratic parties.
In a Facebook post from the Forsyth County Republican Party, the proposals were described as “the Democrats scheme of expanded hours or additional locations.
“We fought to protect the integrity of our elections and not allow opportunities for more fraud,” the post said. “Our voice was heard, we won and you can feel better our local process is safer.”
In a statement after the meeting, the Forsyth County Democratic Committee said they took exception to the Republican statement and said the Republican goal “was to limit working people’s access to the polls.”
“No freedom-loving, proud American should ever see this as something to strive for. We have seen these tactics before in Georgia, time and again,” the release said. “We will continue the fight for all Georgia voters to have increased access to the polls. All Georgians are entitled to vote, regardless of where they work, what they earn, what they look like, who they love, and the political party to which they belong.”