Opinion: No justification for ending Sunday voting in Spalding County

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Poll workers wait on voters to approach their table at Butler Street Baptist Church at 315 Ralph McGill Boulevard NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Poll workers wait on voters to approach their table at Butler Street Baptist Church at 315 Ralph McGill Boulevard NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, the Spalding County Board of Elections will vote on Sunday voting for the upcoming November mid-term elections. What happens in Spalding County points to what may happen to the other Republican-controlled counties in Georgia.

The Spalding County Elections Board is comprised of Ben Johnson, Republican; Roy McClain, Republican; Jim Newland, Republican; Alfred Jester, Democrat; and myself, a Democrat.

On Sept. 14, 2021, the Spalding County Board of Elections voted down Sunday voting because of a staffing shortage and the unwillingness to allocate $1,000 for the Sunday voting during a municipal election.

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James A. O'Brien

Credit: contributed

James A. O'Brien

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
James A. O'Brien

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

House Bill HB 769, sponsored by State Reps. Karen Mathiak and David Knight gutted the elections office in 2021 and took over the elections board. This bill applies only to Spalding County.

HB 769 removed the former Elections Supervisor Marcia Ridley and an elections office employee with a residency requirement. HB 769 removed Vera McIntosh, elections board chair and the fifth member of the board, without cause. Glenda Henley and Margaret Bentley, Democratic members of the board, resigned in protest over the unjust ways their colleagues were treated. Only Mary Passamore, a part-time employee, remains from the prior elections office.

The above-mentioned women have one thing in common – they all are African American.

Interestingly enough, Senate Bill SB202 does permit Sunday voting at the discretion of the registrar, or in this case, the county elections board (see Section 28). This was not the case in the early drafts of SB 202.

The SB 202 preamble makes a very important statement that is often overlooked: “Requiring two Saturday voting days and two optional Sunday voting days will dramatically increase the total voting hours for voters across the state of Georgia, and all electors in Georgia will have access to multiple opportunities to vote in person on the weekend for the first time.” (Section 5).

In my opinion, Section 5 of the preamble speaks to intent. The legislators intend to increase voting access by ensuring Saturday and Sunday voting.

Souls to the Polls is a longstanding tradition for African American churchgoers. Pastors urge their constituents to get out and vote. In some instances, the pastors even provide transportation to the polls.

Early voting on Sundays has been allowed in Georgia for every federal and state election since 2014, although not every county has offered it. Some 37% of the Sunday voters in 2020 were Black voters.

More, since 2017, Spalding County has offered Sunday voting. Why would the Spalding County Board of Elections refuse to provide Sunday voting in the November midterm elections?

Failure to plan and fund Sunday voting will be unjust and lead to the suppression of votes in Spalding County. I hate to even ponder this possibility.

James A. O’Brien lives in Griffin and is a newly appointed Democratic member of the Spalding County Board of Elections. He volunteers at a hospice provider and is on the board of a food pantry.