Rural polling spots restored, for now

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Conway says county will make needed repairs at Rutherford, Western polling places

By Ben Carlson

Four rural polling places were given a reprieve from their death sentences during Friday’s meeting of the Anderson County Board of Elections.

About two dozen rural residents — likely the most people to ever attend a board of elections meeting here — flocked into the Anderson County District Courtroom to demand that several polling places moved from rural locations to school buildings be reversed.
That didn’t happen, but polling places at Hickory Grove, Western and Rutherford were at least temporarily restored while elections officials try to determine how much it will cost the fiscal court to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Those, along with the McBrayer polling place, were tabled by a unanimous vote of the board of elections. After killing them last November, the elections board was forced to reconsider after realizing it didn’t adhere to a portion of the state’s open meetings law that requires public bodies to adopt and make publicly available their meeting schedules.
On Friday, board members heard a largely unified message from rural voters, the majority of which are from the county’s 6th District that includes Western Anderson County.
Most of the comments were directed at County Clerk Jason Denny, who chairs the elections board.
“I don’t think [late county clerk] Harold Ritchey would have tried a trick like this,” said one woman in the crowd. “I don’t know much about politics, but you shot yourself in the foot.
“I don’t blame this committee, I blame you.”
“You’re just trying to hoodoo us,” said another woman.
Denny said the elections board wasn’t aware at the time that its meeting schedule had to be voted on, and that no one tried to get away with anything.
He said the decision was based solely on the need to have polling places ADA compliant, and that doing so would prove costly to taxpayers.
“This was not an attack on Western,” he said.
Steve Sea, a Western resident who organized Friday’s turnout, said the elections board should work with the fiscal court to see what can be done without moving people 15 miles or more from home to vote.
“The schools [in Western Anderson] are gone, the post office is gone and this is the one thing they have left.
“I think you should put this to the fiscal court to make the changes that need to be done.”
Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway, a Western resident, attended the meeting and agreed with Sea.
Saying he was speaking on behalf of the fiscal court, Conway said, “Just tell us what needs to be done, and we’ll take care of it.”
Only two of the precincts — Rutherford, site of the old ball fields, and Western, located at a fire hall — are county-owned property. They can be brought into compliance with tax dollars, and both need substantial improvements.
McBrayer, located at the Stringtown Ruritan Club, and Hickory Grove, located at the Beaver Creek Masonic Lodge, are privately owned and the fiscal court cannot use tax dollars to improve them.
Before voting to table the decision, the elections board decided to request someone from the Kentucky Disabilities Coalition visit each to determine exactly how much work needs to be done.
Denny warned that the executive director of the coalition, Sharon Fields, is unyielding when it comes to making sure every aspect of the ADA is enforced.
“She’s tough,” Denny said. “A couple of years ago, they threatened to shut down a polling place a couple of days before an election, and can shut one down during an election if they want.”
“Maybe the higher ups need to replace her,” quipped Conway.
Another man in the audience said, “These disabilities people are using our tax money to manipulate this. “They are using our tax money and our government to get their way for a minority of people.”
Following the meeting, Sea said he’s glad that the elections board now sees that he and other Western voters are serious about keeping their polling places open.
He said he hopes that the disabilities coalition will work with the board of elections and allow the Masonic Lodge to continue as a location until a planned new fire hall is completed.
“We’ve gotten by all of these years,” he said. “Hopefully we can get by another.”
Sheriff Troy Young is on the elections board but withdrew during last year’s election because he was on the ballot.
He said safety and traffic control concerns were raised before last year’s vote, and offered to have a deputy patrol the Western area during elections and said he will provide traffic control near the fire hall.
He added that he understands the stringent ADA requirements involved.
“We know it’s coming,” he said. “But my thing is to let our hand get pushed a little further. I’ll assign a deputy to patrol those three precincts to work traffic and make sure security is taken care of.
“If we can get by another year or two, great.”
On Monday, Denny said he was working to see if the disabilities coalition will provide someone to examine the locations. He said a list of necessary repairs, along with estimates to make them, will be provided to the fiscal court.
He said those fixes would have to made soon because the polling places will be needed for the May 17 primary for statewide races.
Conway said that should have been done before the elections board moved the polling places, which could have cost taxpayers several thousands dollars to notify affected voters.
“I’d rather spend the $3,000 to $4,000 and do work on the Rutherford building,” Conway said.
He acknowledged that he isn’t sure what it will cost to bring Rutherford or the other locations into compliance.
“If we can get the right people in there, I’m thinking we can get it done for $3,000 to $5,000,” he said.
The previous vote to move the Witherspoon precinct from Saffell Street Elementary to the middle school, along with the South Lillard precinct from the ambulance building to Turner Elementary, was upheld by the elections board.