No Small Stuff: Meridian, MS Seeks to Cool Polling Place Before August Primary

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Regular readers of the blog know that I am fond of saying “there is no small stuff in elections” – and the latest example of that comes from Meridian, MS, where local officials are seeking to ensure that one central polling place is not too hot for the August state primary. The Meridian Star has more:

The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors discussed ways on Monday to ensure a polling place isn’t too hot this August.

The conversation started during the supervisors meeting after District 4 Election Commissioner Gloria Dancy raised concerns about the Frank Cochran Center and its faulty air conditioning units.

The building was hot when poll workers manned the center last year, she said.

Poll workers’ shifts can start as early as 6 a.m. and last until 8:30 p.m.

“My poll worker almost had a heat stroke,” Dancy said.

“It’s an emergency. That’s the reason I’m here today. I can’t ask these people to go in that building in August.”

Fortunately, solving the problem doesn’t involve asking a private owner to address the issue since the building belongs to the City – and city officials seem motivated to get moving now:

The building is an event venue that plays host to wedding receptions, family get-togethers and parties. It has been used as a polling place for years and belongs to the City of Meridian.

District 4 supervisor Joe Norwood said in an interview that something will have to be done.

“Right now we just want to make sure that we get the air working at the Frank Cochran Center so [that], in the month of August, when it’s the hottest part of the year, the poll workers won’t have to worry about it being extremely hot in there,” he said.

“We have to do whatever we have to do — whether it’s moving in portable air conditioners (or) something of that nature, we’re going to make it happen.”

The problem (as it is with many old buildings like this) is figuring out where to find the funds to make the upgrades:

City of Meridian Public Safety Director Doug Stephens said he is aware of the issue and is working to fix it.

“We had some issues with these units,” he said. “We are in the process of trying to find someone to tackle the project and give us some budgeting numbers.”

The units were first installed when the building was erected, Stephens said.

Sometimes the air conditioning works, other times it does not, he said.

“Any time we turn them on, they may not work.”

Meridian may end up with portable units if the permanent system can’t be replaced or repaired in time:

Norwood’s idea of portable air conditioning units may be a solution if the current units are not replaced or fixed by the time voters go to the polls, Stephens said.

“It could be possible,” he said, adding that conversations with county government will happen “in the near future.”

Voting will start in seven weeks with party primaries on Aug. 6.

With all of the other big things happening in the world of elections, this story is a reminder that voting  happens in real places with real people – and sometimes those places have “small” problems that end up having an outsized impact on the voting experience. Kudos to Meridian for confronting the challenge now – especially on behalf of pollworkers who will be inside all day at the hottest time of the year. Grab yourself a cold drink – and stay tuned …

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