“The legislation is already at legislative counsel, it’s been drafted and ready to be dropped (introduced) during the first week of the session,” Hightower, R-Carrollton, said in a meeting with county commissioners. “But just because it’s been dropped doesn’t mean it will make it through.”
If it does make it through the state House, it will have to have a Senate sponsor, likely District 28 state Sen. Mike Crane.
“I’ve already talked with the speaker about this on Monday and he knows it’s one of the things I’ll be doing,” Hightower said. “But it doesn’t mean it will go through.”
Hightower said the way the law is written now, Fairfield Plantation is not a legal precinct because of its boundary lines being the gated community property lines.
“What we’ve done with this legislation is very simple,” he said. “It adds another line in the law saying that boundaries for precincts can be the boundary lines of gated communities. And if it’s a gated community, it has to be fully open to the public, 24 hours before and after the election.”
Fairfield Plantation residents became concerned about losing their precinct when Carroll County Elections Supervisor Becky Deese announced in February that the county was considering closing and combining some voting precincts as a cost-saving measure. Fairfield was on the list of nine precincts.
Deese said other Georgia counties with larger populations have fewer voting precincts. For example, Douglas County has 68,000 voters and 25 precincts, while Carroll County has 58,000 voters and 30 precincts.
She said that keeping each precinct open requires a poll manager, at $195 per election, and two assistant poll managers, at $155 each. She said precinct consolidation was first brought up two years ago by then-Elections Supervisor Patti Brown-Traylor.
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 the consolidation. But commission Chairman Bill Chappell pointed out that the Board of Commissioners has no control over the elections board except to appoint members.
At a later public meeting at Fairfield, Deese said she no longer had plans to close the precinct, if it could meet the state’s legal requirements for precinct boundaries. Hightower, who organized and attended the meeting, pledged to introduce legislation to make the precinct legal.
Legislation was presented to the General Assembly in 2004 to allow precinct boundaries to include gated communities. The bill passed the House by a 155-4 vote, but failed to make it to a Senate vote.