BY CHRISTIAN ASHLAR
Special to The Enterprise
DRESDEN (August 31) – Following a meeting held August 26, the Weakley County Election Commission decided to move forward with what are being called, convenience voting sites (or centers). These voting centers would allow citizens of Weakley County to go any polling place, on election day, to cast their vote. “Instead of everyone being limited to one (voting center), they have access to six or seven places to vote,” John Freeman, Chairman of the Election Commission, says. “Therefore, they have more access to the ballot and it should be easier.”
Other counties in the state of Tennessee served as pilot programs, but Weakley is the first county in the state to implement the voting centers and is also the smallest to do so. “We have seen an increase (in voters) when we opened the satellite early voting in Martin and we think this is the next step,” Chairman Freeman says. The satellite early voting site was necessary to demonstrate to the State of Tennessee, Weakley County had the capability. This is the culmination of three years’ worth of preparation and planning by the commission.
“The motion for this was made by a sitting Democrat and seconded by a sitting Republican,” Freeman says. The program is about voters, not how people will vote, was the message. “This has been what we have steadily worked towards to increase access to the ballot,” Freeman says.
The hope for the voting centers is to streamline the voting process. On Election Day, people in outlying towns might come to Dresden to cast their early ballot only to find they’re in the wrong place. With the voting centers, this will no longer be an issue. All a voter will need is a valid driver’s license and the intent to vote.
The one obstacle facing the Commission’s plans, however, had to do with the availability of a reliable Internet connection. District One, which consists of Palmersville and Latham, were of particular concern. Internet service is required of the voting sites but who would provide this service remained an open question. At Thursday’s meeting, Administrator of Elections, Alex Britt informed the Commission, Frontier said they needed, “two more business days” before informing him whether or not they could be the voting center’s provider.
As with most things, the decision came down to finances. In light of Frontier’s stated rates, Administrator Britt appealed to them from a humanitarian standpoint. Britt cited the benefits of community service and positive public relations. He even stated how WK & T opted out of charging the commission for running line or for connection. Frontier remained unmoved, a stance seen as a business one and not a personal one.
At the meeting held on Tuesday, August 31, Administrator Britt presented the Commission with his findings regarding Frontier and their decision. Of the numbers, he said, “They’re not good.” Frontier offered a 100-megabyte service and a three, five, or seven year contract. For three years, the cost would be $971 per month. A five-year contract would be $685 per month. Lastly, a seven-year contract would cost $534 per month. When delivering the numbers, Britt said, “I don’t believe that’s sustainable.” These amounts only include Internet service. They do not include phone service. Frontier maintains, this remains a business decision. They would guarantee fast response, should there be any sort of problem which would cause the service to go down.
In an attempt to find alternatives, Britt reached out to Weakley County Electric with his concerns. “When I started this, it was simply about getting (the) voting. After communicating with the fire chiefs (at the convenience sites), it’s kind of gotten bigger,” Britt says. “I realized the benefits to the area.”
Undeterred, Britt continued to reach out to different individuals and businesses. After contacting the WCMES, Britt was able to turn his attentions in a different direction. Although not an internet provider, the WCMES provided a springboard for alternatives.
Britt says, “I’ve had conversations with a provider that could do it. The problem will be, figuring out how to get the best price. A benefit to this is, with the service provider that I’ve communicated with is, if we get this connection, the fire stations could be added to the county’s unified phone system.” This would give the fire systems a direct line to the 9-11 phone system. Another added benefit to this alternative would be gigabyte service versus Frontier’s megabyte service to the fire stations. “I’m still working,” Britt says. “I’ve got the service provide; we’ve just got to get the line.”
Chairman Freeman said they were going to proceed with eight polling locations for the convenience voting centers. Just where those locations would be remains to be seen.