The Guilford County Board of Elections and two of its precinct voting locations have been kicked to the curb.
Guilford County is now having to move two polling places to new sites and that change could be a source of confusion for the nearly 5,000 voters assigned to those sites in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 election.
Life Community Church at 4900 W. Wendover Ave. in Jamestown (Precinct FR2) informed the county’s elections office that the voting machines were no longer welcome there. The county is also pulling its polling place out of the Guilford County School’s administrative office at 501 W. Washington Street in downtown Greensboro (Precinct G44).
“It’s not often that it happens – but it does happen,” said Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt about being asked to leave.
He said voters who have been using Life Community Church will now cast their ballots at Jamestown Presbyterian Church at 1804 Guilford College Road, while voters who have been voting at the school system’s administration building on East Washington Street will do so at the Reynolds Center at Greensboro College.
Changes like these can cause confusion for voters who are used to casting ballots in the same place every election. Some voters may be unable to find the new location while others might be cutting it close on Election Day and arrive at their familiar site right before the polls close and therefore may not be able to make it to the new site in time. That’s especially a concern in a major presidential election year when lines may be long.
Collicutt said his office is mailing new voter registration cards to all voters in those precincts along with a note announcing the change of location. He said the county will also put a legal notice in the News & Record at least 45 days prior to the election.
There were 2,213 registered voters in precinct Friendship 2 who voted at Life Community Church, and 2,282 in precinct Greensboro 44 at the school’s administrative building.
Neither of these sites is an early voting location.
In the case of the church, Collicutt said, he wasn’t sure of the reason church officials wanted the voting operations gone.
“Life Community just decided they don’t want to do it anymore,” Collicutt said.
He said the new church site should work out well for most voters.
“As the crow flies, it’s 1.26 miles,” he said of the distance between the two churches.
A woman who answered the phone at Life Community, when asked about the church’s decision, said she would ask the pastor and, after doing so, she said that the church would prefer not to comment.
Collicutt said that, in regard to the school’s administrative building, elections officials realized when they first started using that site that it could present “some logistical challenges to voters,” but, Collicutt added, the Board of Elections had no other options at the time even though school staff in the building let them know of their dissatisfaction with the arrangement.
He wrote in an email this week, “After some elections, they made us aware of the reality of the challenges that we had originally feared. Even then, we needed the spot and were just going to do our best to work around these challenges, but then a great opportunity presented itself.”
That opportunity was Reynolds Auditorium at Greensboro College.
He said that, in the past, some school employees who work at the West Washington Street location informed elections workers of problems with using that as a voting site.
“They made us aware that this was a tough situation, both for the voters and their staff (and sometimes students),” Collicutt wrote.
Nora Carr, chief of staff for Guilford County Schools, said the Washington Street building wasn’t a suitable place for the county’s voting operations.
“It’s not ideal – it’s an office building,” she said.
She also said it was her understanding that it was the elections officials who wanted to leave that site.
“It wasn’t our decision,” Carr said of the schools.
Collicutt said churches and other privately owned sites have a choice whether to allow voting in their buildings; however, when it comes to public buildings such as schools, his elections office can use them for polling places if it wants to.
“I’m more powerful than you know,” he said jokingly but truthfully. “I can take any public building for voting purposes. We could have pushed back [on Washington Street], but we found a better place that helped us all out.”
Collicutt said that his elections office of course wants to keep a good working relationship with the churches, schools and other places throughout the county where votes are cast. He added that his staff must often rely on those who work in the buildings.
“In some cases, it means that a pastor has to come in at 5:30 in the morning,” the elections director said.
He also said these new developments are just two more things to worry about in an election year that’s been full of surprises; but he added that his office has had to make these kinds of changes in the past. He said that, for instance, several years ago, Saint Pius X Catholic Church at 2210 North Elm St., asked the elections board to pull out.
“They wanted us gone after 2012,” he said of St. Pius.
Those voting operations were moved to the Newlyn Street United Methodist Church at 212 E. Newlyn St. in Greensboro.
St. Pius ceased hosting elections due to construction on the voting site. The parish hall where people voted has since been demolished.
Collicutt said reasons vary why a church might want to stop being a polling place. He said they might, for instance, have a new childcare program and not want a lot of people coming through. Or, he said, it could be an insurance issue or perhaps simply that a church or organization gets a new board that doesn’t want voting to take place there.
“Sometimes, it’s precipitated by a change in pastor or a change in the leaders or board,” he said.
Collicutt added that churches or other private locations don’t have to give a reason for wanting elections operations out, but he pointed out that there have been more elections than usual recently so it makes if more of a commitment for polling places than it usually is.
Greensboro College actually asked the county to leave years ago but, given the current predicament, was willing to take them back.
“We were originally at Greensboro College at Reynolds,” Collicutt said.
Collicutt said that this year, when it was clear a new site would be needed, Collicutt called the college, spoke with the president, and got permission.
Collicutt said he wasn’t sure why the college wanted the elections site gone and then was willing to take it back. He said some places allow voting in their facilities out of a sense of civic responsibility.
“There is the service to the community,” he said.
He added that there are other reasons as well.
“I’m sure some churches like the exposure to their church,” he said.
In the days before an election, Guilford County uses about four or five trucks to carry the heavy equipment out to the site where it is dropped off and locked up.
“So we’re taking up some real estate,” Collicutt said.
Then, the day before, there’s some prep work. Elections staff also comes in early on Election Day to set up.
The department generally picks up the machines the day after the election.
Collicutt said crowds of voters aren’t as litter prone as rock concert goers but there are usually some sample ballots and empty water bottles to clean up.
Guilford County Board of Elections member Don Wendelken said that the board looks at several factors when determining whether a site is a good one.
“The main thing, obviously for the precinct, is access,” Wendelken said. “How does that place fit in with the precinct’s population?”
He also said there has to be adequate room inside, convenient parking and the site must be compliant with the American Disabilities Act.
The polling place must also be either in the precinct or on a contiguous piece of property and there are other considerations as well.
“It’s not good if the voters have to go in, go down two hallways and then take a right,” Wendelken said.