House Bill 87, introduced late last week, would allow the boundaries of a gated community to serve as precinct boundaries. The bill stipulates that the gates must be kept open for public access, by voters and election workers, throughout the election day.
Co-sponsors of the legislation include District 18 Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton; District 69 Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange; District 70 Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan; District 171 Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla; and District 3 Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold.
“During my campaign, I made a commitment to the voters of Fairfield to do all that I could to help save their voting precinct,” Hightower said Tuesday. “By submitting this legislation, I’m keeping my word and trying to fulfill that commitment. During this time, when voter apathy is at an all time high, we don’t need to put further obstacles in the way of our voters.
“This exact bill was introduced by Rep. Lynn Smith during the 2004 legislative session, and the bill passed the House with a vote of 154 in favor of the bill and only four votes against,” he said. “However, the 2004 legislative session, which was 40 days, came to an end before the bill could make it to the Senate floor for a vote.”
Residents of Fairfield Plantation, located in the Sandhill community between Carrollton and Villa Rica, became concerned last February about losing their precinct. County Elections Supervisor Becky Deese announced at that time that Fairfield was on a list of nine precincts that the county was considering closing in a cost saving measure. Under the proposal, Fairfield voters would have been split between two other nearby precincts, Hulett and Sandhill, both outside the community gates.
Deese pointed out that other Georgia counties with larger populations have fewer voting precincts than Carroll County. For example, she said Douglas County has 68,000 voters and 25 precincts, compared to Carroll County, with 58,000 voters and 30 precincts.
Fairfield residents began circulating petitions to retain their precinct and the Board of Commissioners passed a non-binding resolution on Feb. 7, asking the county board of elections to take no further action during the year on precinct consolidations.
After a later public meeting at Fairfield, attended by hundreds of community residents, Deese announced she would take no further actions to close the precinct, if the state law could be changed so that the community would meet legal requirements for precinct boundaries. The current law doesn’t allow gated community boundaries to be precinct boundaries. House Bill 87 would make these required changes.