Community News Voters voice grievances about Catoosa polls

Community News Voters voice grievances about Catoosa polls

June 13th, 2018 by Myron Madden in Community North Georgia

Voters are pictured casting their ballots at the Chickamauga Civic Center in Walker County. Catoosa County saw an increase in voter turnout at its polls during the May 22 primary, despite technical glitches and parking issues at some precincts.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Voters cast their ballots at the Chickamauga Civic Center on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Chickamauga, Ga. Turnout was steady at the polling place for Georgia's Tuesday primary election.

Voters cast their ballots at the Chickamauga Civic...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Some Catoosa County voters are worried that issues like technological glitches and limited parking could discourage future turnout at local polls if problems persist.

During the May 22 primary election, the Catoosa County Elections and Registration Department reported that some machines were timing out after voters selected the "large text" option. Enlarging the text lengthened the 11-page ballot to 18 pages, causing the system to delay, explained department Director Tonya Moore.

"It was just like a computer, how it will get stuck," she said.

Moore said the issue did not cause too much backup in the lines, adding that the default text was already fairly sizable, but during Catoosa's June 5 commission meeting, one resident called the glitch "embarrassing."

Moore said the hiccup was primarily the result of the ballot's unusually numerous amount of questions, which was also questioned during the commission meeting.

This year's ballot included questions from the Republican Party, but the length was unprecedented because of the addition of the questions for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Moore explained. In the past, she said, the SPLOST vote has typically fallen on odd-number years, enabling it to have a special election with nothing else on the ballot.

"We did everything we could," Moore said. "There was nothing [else] that we could do; we just asked everyone to please not press the 'large text.'"

During the commission meeting, another resident, Ben Scott, called for commissioners to address the issue of limited parking at the Chambers Voting Precinct in Ringgold.

The building's small parking lot only holds about 12 cars, with angled parking spaces on each side, he said. The lot also has a few designated parking spots running down the center, he continued, but when visitors park there, it's hard for other drivers to back out.

"It was just an inconvenient parking situation," Scott said. "While we were there, I saw at least two other cars that were wanting to turn in that just left, and I don't know if they came back or not."

Catoosa County Chairman Steven Henry said the county is "totally aware" of the problem and already working to find a possible solution.

Moore said officials considered purchasing land next to the parking lot in hopes of expansion back when Mike Helton, who resigned in 2015, was still the county manager. According to her understanding, negotiations had fallen through due to cost.

"Unfortunately, when people find out the county wants property, all of a sudden it's worth a million dollars," Henry said.

In the meantime, Moore said voters in the precinct can avoid the parking issue by mailing in an absentee ballot or by heading out for early voting, which lasts for three weeks before Election Day and does not require voters to report to their area's designated precinct.

Still, Scott, who is new to the Chambers precinct, said he hopes the issue is resolved sooner rather than later.

"I know you can mail in ballot, but there's still a lot of traditionalists that like to vote on Election Day," he said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like when you have a federal election for president."

Despite the inconveniences, Catoosa County saw an increase in voter participation, poll data shows. During this year's election, the county received ballots from more than 5,200 residents. In 2014, ballots were received from 3,700 residents.

Still, with more than 38,600 registered voters in the county, this year's 13 percent turnout is low, locals said.

Voters will return to the polls July 24 for runoff elections, which are held when none of the candidates in the running receive more than 50 percent of the votes. Nominees from each party will advance to the Nov. 6 elections.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com