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Court OKs $10K to fix polling places

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Vote could preserve voting at Rutherford, Hickory Grove

By Ben Carlson

Three western Anderson County polling places left for dead just last week were revived Monday during a special-called meeting of the fiscal court.
The fiscal court voted to spend up to $10,000 to fix polling places at Rutherford and Hickory Grove, and Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway announced that Mago Construction, his former employer, will donate asphalt to fix the parking lot at Western Masonic Lodge.
Rutherford and Hickory Grove are publicly owned facilities, which means the fiscal court is allowed to spend taxpayer funds to fix them, Conway said. The Masonic Lodge isn’t, so the donated asphalt and volunteers to fix problems inside is the only way it can be improved other than its owners making the repairs.
All three polling places failed two handicap accessibility surveys conducted recently by the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition.
They, along with a polling place at McBrayer in Stringtown, were voted closed previously by the Anderson County Board of Elections after each failed an accessibility survey.
That sparked outrage among rural residents, particularly those in western Anderson who flooded a board of elections meeting in February. That meeting culminated with Conway vowing that the fiscal court would make repairs to Rutherford and others, if it were told what repairs are needed.
Magistrates got their answer last Tuesday. The surveys showed that Rutherford’s parking lot wasn’t suitable for wheelchair access and that an inside door is too narrow.
At Hickory Grove, issues exist with a ramp into a door along with pavement issues. Similar issues exist at Western.
During last Tuesday’s meeting, Conway alternated between wanting to fix the problems to saying it would be useless because the coalition would just find another reason to fail them.
For that he and others pointed fingers at County Clerk Jason Denny, who they say wanted to move the precincts as a matter of convenience for his office.
Denny said that wasn’t true, and that all of Anderson’s polling places have been moved in the past two years due to survey failures.
The board of elections met last Friday and heard more concerns about closing Rutherford and Hickory Grove, which were slated to be moved to Turner Elementary School, a 20-mile drive for some western Anderson residents.
The elections board agreed to give the fiscal court another chance to make the repairs, and set a May 9 deadline to complete them. If the precincts are moved, the elections board would need time to notify affected voters by mail, which is required by state statute.
On Monday, Conway asked for and received permission from the fiscal court to spend an estimated $7,000 on Rutherford and $3,000 on Hickory Grove.
Magistrate Buddy Sims voted no, saying that people with whom he has spoken think spending tax dollars on those polling places is wasteful.
Magistrate David Ruggles disagreed, saying that people in western Anderson are taxpayers, too, and deserve to be able to vote close to home.
Magistrate David Montgomery questioned whether the fiscal court could spend funds fixing the fire hall, which is owned by the Anderson County Fire Board and is funded through a special taxing district.
“Would that be a conflict? Montgomery asked.
“I’ve asked [County Attorney] Bobbi Jo [Lewis] and she said she didn’t think so,” Conway replied.
Conway said the Western parking lot will be paved by April 29, and that he and others have volunteered to make repairs inside the building.
Once completed, each of the polling places will need to be surveyed again by the coalition to ensure they are compliant.