Many Meridian voters unsure of where to vote after county officials approved late change

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MERIDIAN — Some Lauderdale County voters said they received no notification they had a different polling place after county officials, less than two months before Election Day, moved polling places for about 1,650 voters.

The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors made the move on Sept. 8 to provide more space for social distancing and enhance voter privacy and parking access, according to board documents. The changes were requested by the county’s Election Commission and voted on by the supervisors.

While some residents did hear about the change, they were confused by the correspondence they received from the county.

One voter, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said he and his mother received a letter stating the Raymond P. Davis Building County Courthouse Annex in downtown Meridian was their “new voting location for county elections,” with “county elections” underlined.

But since Tuesday’s election is a federal election, he and his mother took that to mean they would continue voting at the Central Fire Station as they had in previous elections. When he showed up at the fire station Tuesday before 7 a.m., no one was there and no signage was posted.

Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

The Raymond P. Davis Building – County Courthouse Annex in downtown Meridian is the new location for those who used to vote at Central Fire Station.

“It was about 7:55 a.m. before a gentleman showed up and told us that we are not supposed to be there to vote and that we were supposed to be at the Raymond P. Davis Annex building,” he said.

District 2 Election Commissioner Consuela Rue said the letter was written that way because residents of that part of her district vote at one precinct for city elections and another for county elections.

“For municipal elections, they have different precincts,” she said, noting that she has recommended to city officials that they also transfer those municipal precincts to the Annex Building to decrease voter confusion.

Kate Royals/Mississippi Today

Reginald Cole acts as a “stander,” or a person who stands and redirects voters at a closed precinct, at the Central Fire Station in Meridian. A handwritten sign taped to his car directs people to their new polling location.

On Tuesday around 11 a.m., Reginald Cole was parked outside the Central Fire Station acting as a “stander,” or someone who redirects voters to the correct precinct. Cole had two handwritten signs taped to his car directing people to vote at the Annex Building about a half mile away. Voters would drive by and roll down their windows, and he directed them away.

He estimated that by that time, about 50 people had come to the fire station to attempt to vote.

One of those was Ina Campbell, who was planning to vote on her lunch break. She told Mississippi Today she received no notification of a change.

Two other precincts, Prospect and Andrews Chapel, were merged together into a single precinct at Gracepointe Fellowship to improve its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to provide a larger room for voting.

“… such improved facilities for disabled voters and elderly voters will enhance the voting process for all persons involved,” the board of supervisors’ Sept. 8 order states.

County officials also approved relocating the polling precinct at the First Baptist Church of Lauderdale to the Gateway Church. The decision was made after First Baptist Church requested to no longer be a polling place, according to the order.

Gateway is a handicapped accessible facility with sufficient parking and an “adequate area” for voting, the order stated.