By MARINA WATERS
The new Jonesborough voting site for 2020 will now only serve as an early voting location.
Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said at the Washington County Budget meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, that the former Ace Hardware location at 220 N. Second Avenue in Jonesborough, will only be utilized as an early voting site.
“Election Day voting will have to take place at the courthouse due to its proximity to the precinct polling place for the courthouse precinct district,” Grandy said, “which is outside the limits of Jonesborough. There are limitations to how close a polling place can be to a precinct line.”
At the commission’s Jan. 27 meeting, the commission approved the one-year lease for the building for $77,500 a year. The resolution passed in a 9-5 vote.
The commission opted to lease the building for a year in order to alleviate overcrowding at the courthouse on Main Street. Because the hardware building is outside of the range for the voting site, Commissioner Jim Wheeler said the election commission would have needed approval from the state election coordinator to use the building for both early voting and general elections. The election commission opted not to go that direction, Grandy said.
“I understand that was a decision by our election commission,” Wheeler said. “They would have to get concurrence with the state election representative and they made the decision not to go that route. I was disappointed that we weren’t told that before we agreed to that lease. That was a local decision.”
Commissioner Freddie Malone, who voted in opposition of the one-year lease, said having all of that information before the commission’s vote might have changed the outcome at the Jan. 27 meeting.
“It would not have changed my vote at the full commission, but it might have changed some others,” Malone said. “I’m not sure which troubles me most, the thought that it was known and not shared or it wasn’t even known and then later discovered. It does bother me.”
Commissioner Larry England echoed Malone’s sentiment.
“Even if (the proximity issue) wasn’t known, it should have been known and shared,” England said at the budget meeting. “I voted against it, but it might have changed some other minds to vote that same way before we spent $77,000 for early voting.”
At the Jan. 27 commission meeting, some commissioners said they felt the $77,500 price tag was too much for a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Now, Wheeler said, the commission needs to consider its future plans before falling into the same position.
“The other thing that concerns me as a budget committee member, but also as a commissioner, is that they never got us complete information. They came to us several times basically pleading for a vote (for the building lease) with (incomplete information) in front of us. The one-year lease, that’s done. We have to live with that. But they don’t need to come up a year from now and there not be any plan.”
Early voting for the presidential primary election is Feb. 12-26. Locations in Washington County include the former Ace Hardware building, Princeton Art Center and Gray Commons from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Any registered Washington County voter can cast their ballot during early voting at any of the early voting locations.