TUPELO • With seven weeks left before an upcoming presidential election, county leaders this week have agreed to relocate a voting precinct – a decision that has upset some members of the Lee County Election Commission.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a request to move the Tupelo 4 voting precinct. It was previously located at the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church on Willie Moore Road. Now, voters will cast their ballots at the Haven Acres Boys and Girls Club, which is located on the same road as the church.
The precinct is located in District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy’s district, and he said church leaders asked for the county to move the precinct to another location because of COVID-19 concerns. According to Ivy, the church did not want voters, who could potentially be carriers of the virus, spreading the disease throughout the church.
A change in a polling precinct must be approved by county supervisors, but county election commissioners and the circuit clerk typically have some input about moving precincts.
Jacque Grayson, the election commissioner who represents the same district as Ivy, told her fellow election commissioners at a Tuesday morning meeting that she also received some concerned calls from the church and that she gave her informal blessing to honor the request of the church.
Despite Grayson’s decision, nearly all the other members of the Lee County Election Commission at the Tuesday meeting said they were disappointed they were not consulted about the precinct change and displayed visible shock that the supervisors would even approve of a change without keeping the commission informed.
“We as commissioners never even had an input,” District 5 Commissioner Joe Hester said. “That’s what bothers me the most. We probably would have said OK, but that’s not the point. The point is we didn’t have any input. And I think that’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s wrong.”
Whenever county officials move a polling precinct, registered voters in that precinct are always notified by mail. With concerns over the U.S. Postal Service’s current ability to deliver mail in a timely manner, some commissioners worried that voters at the precinct might not be notified in time for the election.
District 2 Commissioner Shelia Landsell even questioned if the decision to move the precinct to a new building this close to the date of an election was legal and said she would be contacting her own county supervisor to express her disapproval over how this was handled.
Gary Carnathan, the attorney for the county supervisors, said that he believes the relocation of the polling precinct was legal under the current circumstances. He believes the COVID-19 concerns of the church meets the legal threshold for an emergency relocation of a polling location.
Even so, election commissioners and circuit clerk staff continue to have concerns, though they agreed that the decision of the supervisors will stand.
“I’m not trying to be ugly, but seven weeks before a general presidential election was not the time to move this,” said circuit clerk employee Dawn Coon.
This most recent change is now the second time that a polling precinct has recently been moved in Lee County. Last month, county supervisors voted to approve a request to move the Tupelo 1 precinct from the Bel Air Center to the American Legion building on Legion Lake Road.
The Bel Air Center, which is a facility owned by the city of Tupelo, is currently undergoing renovations and portions of the building have been torn down, which will make the facility unusable on Election Day.
The upcoming election will take place on Nov. 3. If Lee County voters have any questions about where they vote on Election Day, they are encouraged to call the Lee County Circuit Clerk’s Office for more information or go to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website at www. sos.ms.gov and use the polling place locator feature.