By Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch
Polling places in Jefferson County could be in line to receive more money to host elections, according to a report from Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars.
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting of the Jefferson County Commission, Stephenson said that the county last increased the rent offered to sites that host polling places in October 2018. That took the rent from $25 to $100.
The registrar said an increase in rent this year would be a sign of goodwill. When asked, Stephenson said the rent could be raised to $250 for each of the county’s 175 polling places; he said only 60 polling places actually accept rent.
“It would probably be beneficial during this time of the COVID crisis,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “I think it would be at least temporary while we’re facing this for at least the July election and the November election.”
Commissioner Lashunda Scales urged the county to take a “holistic approach” to elections this year. She said more money may be needed to compensate poll workers during the pandemic.
“We would not want to suppress the vote,” she said.
Stephenson said he will draft a resolution for consideration at an upcoming commission committee meeting. He provided an update Thursday from a recent meeting of the Election Commission.
The registrar talked about the possibility of expanded absentee voting, which would take the pressure off polling places. The expansion of absentee voting is a matter that’s being addressed in court, he said, adding that County Attorney Theo Lawson will provide input.
Stephenson also talked about training poll workers, who tend to be senior citizens. That training will likely be done in small groups, he said, to maintain social distancing. The classes will also be available via video.
In commission business, commissioners passed a resolution for up to $1.15 million in supplemental funds for the county’s revolving loan fund grant from the state’s Economic Development Administration. As a result, businesses in Jefferson County will be able to apply for more money to help them combat the effects of COVID-19.