Athens-Clarke County Commissioners listen to the concerns of Athens citizens at the Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission discussed possible problems with implementing the state’s new voting system in the county during a Jan. 21 agenda-setting meeting. Commissioners also discussed a proposal to convert a building to a rehabilitation center — also known as a “halfway house” — on Highland Park Drive.

ACC Manager Blaine Williams proposed a request for $101,898 to fund “unforeseen expenses” relating to the implementation of the county’s new voting system. District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said it was important for the county to use its own resources in addition to those provided by the state to make future elections more secure and convenient.

The state of Georgia allocated more than $1 million to ACC for implementation of the state's new voting system, which will be used in this year’s elections beginning with the presidential primary in March. The ACC Board of Elections has been testing the new machines since December.

The proposed funding request item states the $101,898 would allow the ACC Board of Elections to purchase equipment and supplies not covered by the state’s allocation to ACC, such as tables, carts, printing ink and ballot paper for the machines. The funds would also be used to hire more poll officials for both election day and advance voting day, according to the document.

Denson said the voting machines the state provided are “not enough for [the county] to necessarily have a secure and accessible election,” adding that the extra money from the request would better ensure security.

Denson also pointed out a discrepancy in the number of voting machines the state provided to the county. One part of the agenda item document listed that ACC received 298 ballot marking machines, while another said it had received 318, Denson said.

Commissioners also discussed ACC’s polling locations not having enough electricity to handle the new machines, which require more electricity than the older polling machines, according to District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link.

“From what I understand, 18 out of 20 of our precincts do not have adequate electrical capacity to accommodate the required number of machines for the expected number of voters,” Link said.

Link suggested that the $101,898 requested may not be enough to ensure the polling places are “outfitted with the proper [electrical] capacity.”

ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz said the concerns regarding the voting systems would be discussed further in a February voting meeting.

The Mayor and Commission also discussed a request for three special-use permits that would allow Freedom From Bondage, an Athens-area drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization for women, to convert a three-family residential building on Highland Park Drive into a halfway house where women can live while they recover from addiction.

The Mayor and Commission will hold a public hearing about the request during a March meeting, and then must wait at least six months after the hearing to take a vote under Georgia law, said Brad Griffin, the ACC Planning Director.

The Mayor and Commission will hold a legislative review meeting to discuss Athens’ minimum price for alcoholic drinks on Jan. 23.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the request for $101,898 did not specify what the requested funding would be used for. However, the legislation specified the funding would be used to purchase supplies and equipment for local elections. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been fixed.

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