Aragon City Hall will now be hosting voters on March 12, and if all goes well for the next several years as an emergency precinct move was approved by the Board of Elections during a special called meeting on Thursday morning.

All five board members heard from Elections Assistant Director Stephen Walker as he explained that up until recent days the 101 Church who have taken over the former Aragon First United Methodist and what was set to be this year’s precinct again. Then he said one of the board members suggested he reach out in the past few days to the church again to ensure that everything is on track for the precinct to setup, hold the primary vote and pack up the following day.

He said the second conversation didn’t go so well, and he learned that renovations won’t be completed until March 24. That’s 12 days later than the primary, and thus they are unable to host the precinct.

“He (Pastor James Cordell) didn’t feel like it was possible to have us in there on March 12, and asked me to contact my board and ask for an emergency move,” Walker said of his conversation. “I don’t know where the change happened. I know that it wasn’t just me that was told we would be in there and 101 would be the precinct.”

“I think as of last week, we were still going to use 101 as our precinct. So when I talked to him on Tuesday, he asked for the emergency move I immediately called Richard (Long) and we just went through the plan and what we had already had as our backup emergency plan.”

This has forced the Board to approve the emergency move as a backup plan – one that had already been considered, per Elections Director Noah Beck who attended the meeting on a brief return from paternity leave.

Walker said the Aragon City Hall has already been scouted, the number of machines considered and officials have ensured there won’t be any scheduling conflicts. They’ve even considered the number of handicapped spots needed, and the proper number of exits for the Presidential Preference Primary.

“It’s a little bit tighter than what I would like to be in, but really there’s nothing that we can do,” he said.

Aragon’s Council Meeting Room/Court Room will be used for the voting precinct on March 12, 2024.

Beck and Walker said the only issue at this point is what to do for the May primary, and general or special elections required going forward.

The plan is to get an agreement for a four-year contract with the City of Aragon for the use of City Hall for Elections – at maximum 15 days per year – if everything goes well with the upcoming vote and the city agrees to the contract presented them already given the go-ahead from the County Attorney Brad McFall.

The board will hear about that contract during their April session, Beck said.

If fully approved, the state’s vendor for new precinct cards will print up and send out a new batch to send out to voters in the precinct’s boundaries around the City of Aragon.

Board Chair Richard Long commended Walker and Beck and the rest of the Elections Department staff for their conduct during a rough several days.

“It shows that they are prepared, they can handle these emergencies and we can move on,” he said.

On Tuesday during the fire at the old Jockey plant, Beck, Walker and a Floyd County elections staff member who lives in Cedartown secured paper copies of ballots in an attempt to ensure that if the fire at the plant were to jump with its heat and high winds across the creek and toward the Goodyear Civic Center, there would be no issues with ballots being lost if the building were to catch fire.

They took these measures under consultation with what Beck said were “the highest ranks of the Secretary of State’s office” to secure the ballots under public view after the precinct closed at 5 p.m., and brought them to the Board of Elections office under seals that were recorded, and are in public view currently and under lock and key until Primary night counting.

Elections Director Noah Beck explained the emergency move of ballots during the Feb. 29 meeting as a precaution during the old Jockey plant fire. Dr. Bruce Bell, Elections Board member, is right.

The ballots will be counted alongside the rest of the early voting ballots because the cards recording each vote on machines were still in place and uninterrupted. These paper copies are for auditing purposes, and are physical copies to provide a physical record of the vote as required by state law.

Beck also discussed future plans for emergencies like fires, natural disasters or various types of attacks on a precinct. A plan that was previously drafted hasn’t been updated in several years, so Beck said he plans to work with EMA Director Bobby Dockery to ensure there is updated procedures in place for the elections office in the months to come.

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