The Camden County Board of Elections and Registration met Friday morning, voting to add a one-day, early voting site in the town of Woodbine on the northern end of the county for the January Georgia Senate runoff election that could tilt the balance of the United States Senate.
However, some constituents don’t believe one day of early voting opportunity is enough for that portion of the county.
“With this [election] now being of historically high voter interest, when the whole world is watching Georgia, why now eliminate a significant portion of those who live in Camden County and District 1 from full access to voting?” said Kevin Walker, who recently ran for a county commission seat in District 1, before losing to the incumbent in November.
Walker and several others, including members of the Camden County Branch NAACP, called into the board’s teleconference to urge them to add at least three days of early voting in Woodbine.
In their November meeting, the five board members decided against adding an early voting location in District 1 at all.
The lack of early voting opportunities in Woodbine triggered a backlash from local residents, who said voters would have to make a nearly 60-mile round trip in order to vote at the next closest early polling location in Kingsland.
“You also have many who are elderly, who may not drive that far of a distance,” Walker said. “So that kind of takes them out of the picture.”
Walker also said he’s spoken to people in the area who are concerned about voting with absentee ballots due to President Donald Trump claiming that many non in-person ballots are illegal and a form of fraud.
When the board offered the one-day early polling location to take place on Saturday, Dec. 19, from 9 am to 3 p.m., two of the board members - Jannett Bradford and James Corbett - voted against the change, saying they wanted to see at least three days of early voting opportunities for northern Camden County residents.
“I would hope that as a board, we would not just flagrantly ignore the comments that have been made, regarding the insufficiency of one day of advance voting,” Bradford said.
Corbett offered three additional days where voting in Woodbine could take place, on December 21, 22, and 29, where poll staff could shift from other locations to the Woodbine City Hall.
Camden County Elections Supervisor Shannon Nettles said that those dates wouldn’t work because the days were set aside to work on counting absentee ballots.
She told WJCT News that the lower population in the northern part of the county made it hard to justify adding extra days of early voting in the area, and that the office had already sent out more than 600 absentee ballots in the region.
In comparison, the cities of St. Marys and Kingsland are receiving at least a week of early voting each, although they both have significantly larger populations.
Nettles also said this election was the first time her office was in charge of running the entire election process, which was usually partially handled by the probate court.
“It might not be exactly what everyone wanted this go around but we sure are doing our best and trying to keep everyone in mind,” Nettles said.
Overall, the vote in favor of one day of early voting in District 1 passed 3-2, with the other three board members agreeing that the decision would be sufficient enough for people in northern Camden County.
Board member Barbara Hahn, who represents District 1, said it wasn’t an easy decision, but there were many factors that leaned toward offering a single day.
“One is the availability of the poll workers, the holiday season, the rise in COVID cases,” Hahn said.
The three board members and Nettles said the safest method to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was to avoid the government complex building, which is located in Woodbine, the county seat.
“They're not allowing large groups in our Camden County government complex building, which is where I'm located due to the risk of spreading COVID into the building, which is the true center infrastructure of the county government here,” Nettles said. “And so we're trying to keep things limited in what we are offering.”
Board member Kyle Knapp, who voted in favor of the one day of extra voting, said that 57.7% of District 1 voters cast their early ballots outside of their district in the general election, meaning having multiple days of early voting was not necessary for the race.
Overall, Walker said he’s disheartened with what the board decided.
“It is disenfranchising the people, and it's almost a case of voter suppression,” Walker said.
Voters who aren’t able to make it to the Woodbine early polling location at the Board of Elections & Registration Offices, 200 E. 4th Street, can still travel to Kingsland and St. Marys to cast a ballot. Information on exactly where to go can be found on the county’s website. Georgia residents can also request mail-in ballots until December 31.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.