BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (September 13) — During a meeting of the Weakley County Election Commission, held Monday, September 13, commissioners voted to authorize eight convenience voting centers, including the Palmersville and Latham fire stations. However, the proposed location of the other convenience voting sites across Weakley County, have not yet been finalized.
Administrator of Elections Alex Britt discussed recent developments regarding bringing fiber internet service to District One, which consists of the rural communities of Palmersville and Latham.
Internet service capable of handling the data-transmission requirements necessary to support the computer system needed for the convenience voting centers during the upcoming 2022 elections, is currently not available in the area.
Other voting centers in the county are located in areas where reliable internet service is already in place. However, high-speed internet fiber would have to be installed in the Palmersville and Latham area in order for these fire stations to host voting convenience centers.
Britt has contacted multiple internet providers in an effort to secure service at Palmersville and Latham fire stations. He noted, just to obtain a 100-megabyte internet service, but no phone service, Frontier Communications would require signing up for a three-, five- or seven-year contract costing $971, $685 or $534 per month, respectively. However, Britt stated he does not believe the cost would be sustainable.
According to Britt, although Weakley County Municipal Electric System is not an internet provider, the poles for an above-ground system are already in place, and could be utilized by another firm to provide the internet connections required.
WCMES officials have presented proposals to the Palmersville and Latham fire departments, regarding installing fiber internet cable to those locations for the purpose of operating convenience voting centers during the upcoming 2022 elections. Britt stated if the proposals are accepted, the internet service would be provided by Lifeline Voice and Data, which offers gigabyte service instead of the much slower megabyte service available with Frontier Communications.
Under the contract proposal, Palmersville and Latham fire departments would be responsible for paying the cost of installing the internet connections.
“They will have to weigh the cost to determine whether they want to do that or not,” Britt said. “If they do, we’ll be able to have voting centers out there, but, if they don’t, most likely we won’t be able to.”
Another important reason to install the fiber internet service is so the fire stations could be added to the county’s unified phone system giving them a direct line to the 9-1-1 phone system. Cellphone service is practically non-existent in much of District One, and some areas don’t even have landline phone access. This is a public safety issue that has been expressed repeatedly by Weakley County Commissioners that represent the citizens of District One.
The Election Commission has asked the Palmersville and Latham fire departments to give them an answer by November 3, which is the week before their next scheduled meeting on November 8.
Advantages of Convenience Voting Centers
Historically, voting was conducted on Election Day at the various polling stations throughout the county.
In recent years, voters have had the option of, either casting their ballots at the Election Commission office during the early voting period, or at the various polling stations around the county on Election Day. This required citizens to vote at their respective polling locations, based on their place of residence.
Under Weakley County’s new voting system, instead of being limited to one polling site, based on what voting district they reside in, convenience voting centers will allow the citizens of Weakley County to go to any polling location to cast their ballots on Election Day.
This will provide greater access to the ballot, making it much more convenient for the citizens of Weakley County, and increasing the likelihood that a larger number of local citizens will have the opportunity to vote.
To prevent someone from voting more than once, by casting ballots at multiple voting sites, the new computer system keeps track of how many times a person votes during any given election, to prohibit voter fraud.
The convenience voting centers received bipartisan support from board members, who are focused on the voters, not how they will vote.
Weakley has the distinction of being the first county in Tennessee to implement satellite voting centers on Election Day.