Reaction was mixed to the Meridian City Council's 5-0 vote last Tuesday to change the location of five of the city's voting precincts.
Under the proposal by the Lauderdale County Election Commission, city residents who vote in municipal elections at one location and at another location for national, state and county elections would vote at one location.
The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors has already approved consolidating the voting sites.
Meridian Mayor Percy Bland opposes changes to the polling locations which will impact some 4,500 city voters. Bland said he is particularly concerned about the effect in the pre-dominantly African American precincts at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church and New Hope Baptist Church.
Bland has said he will veto the council's action, but will not be able to overturn the unanimous vote without the support of at least one council member.
Bland has said the decision to change the polling locations was done without a data-driven study to determine the impact on voters and future elections. He also questioned the timing of the changes. This election will be the first since June 2013 when a requirement was lifted that mandated the U.S. Department of Justice must approve any changes to voting locations in the state.
As a result of Tuesday’s council vote, Mt. Olive Baptist Church will no longer serve as a voting precinct for upcoming elections. In Ward 4-B, some voters will go to the Council of Organizations and others to the Carousel Place.
In Ward 4-D, because of parking at New Hope Baptist Church, voters in that precinct will now vote at the larger First Baptist Church in downtown Meridian.
In Ward 2, voters will move from Trinity Lutheran Church to the Meridian Little Theatre.
In Ward 2-B, Bonita voters, and annexed voters on the east side of Meridian, will vote at Oak Grove Baptist Church at Bonita, rather than driving across town to vote at the Velma Young Center.
On Wednesday night, Mt. Olive's Board of Deacons and Trustees, along with Pastor A.D. Lewis, issued a statement in support of Bland's position to keep Mt. Olive as a voting precinct.
"We're offering Mayor Bland our full support in his effort to return Mt. Olive Baptist as a voting precinct," said Ronald Turner, spokesman for the Board of Deacons and Trustees.
Reading from a statement issued by the church, Turner cited the church's historical significance during the Civil Rights Movement.
"The late Emma Lou Whitlock, a faithful member of Mt Olive, was a powerful figure and driving force in early voters' rights activities. She was actively involved in the Crusade for Voters League and her telephone trees were important to politicians seeking office in our city. On Aug. 4, 1964, Mt. Olive hosted a concert and everyone who attended will never forget the terrible announcement heard that night. Folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger came to Meridian as part of the 1964 Freedom Summer activities to entertain local volunteers.
"It was at Mt. Olive in the middle of Seeger's concert that it was announced to the crowd of 200 that the slain bodies of three missing Civil Rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, had been found after being missing for 44 days.
"In an effort to honor the legacy of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in order that we enjoy our civil rights, we proudly offer our historic facilities."
Mable Otis, a 70-year-old member of Mt. Olive, said she has voted before at the Council of Organizations but prefers Mt. Olive.
"The last time I voted in the city election, it was at Mt. Olive and now we're going to be moved elsewhere," Otis said. "I regularly vote, ever since I was 18 and was old enough to register to vote. If I have to vote at Carousel or Council of Organizations, I'm going to vote, but I prefer Mt. Olive."
Angela Turner, who is a member of Mt. Olive but votes at New Hope Baptist Church, said the changes will impact African American voters more because many do not have transportation to go longer distances.
"It's just more convenient for them to vote here at Mt. Olive and for me to vote at New Hope," Angela Turner said. "They say the parking lot at New Hope isn't big enough, well, I believe it is because it doesn't take that long to vote. I'm usually in and then out. I also know it's going to hard for people to get to First Baptist because many don't have the transportation."
While some voters in Ward 4 were not pleased with the council's action, some voters in Ward 2, were.
Ruth Carr, an 85-year-old Meridian resident, was elated to be able vote close to home.
"Oh, yes I am," Carr said. "I never did like having to go to Velma Young. Oak Grove Baptist is really close. It will remind me of my first time to vote when we use to go to the old school house. I'm just tickled to death that I can vote here at the church."
Another Ward 2 voter, Jean Pippin Weathers, also supports Oak Grove as a new precinct site.
"I didn't like having to drive all the way over there (to Velma Young)," she said. "I'm fine with it being here."
The Rev. Roy Dabbs said Oak Grove will be a good precinct site.
"It's a clean facility and I believe the voters will enjoy it," Dabbs said. "We're real blessed to be a part of this process."