Kamper Park voting precinct to get new home next year

By BETH BUNCH,

The 1,900 people registered to vote at the Kamper Park voting precinct will more than likely be getting a new voting place for the 2020 elections.

District 1 election commissioner Gentry Mordica appeared before the Forrest County Board of Supervisors during Monday’s regular board meeting to address the board about the need for a larger facility for voters at the Kamper Park precinct located at the Hattiesburg Zoo.

Mordica said during his short time as an election commissioner, he has visited precincts, even in other districts, in order to get a feel for the needs of the precinct.

“In District 1, our largest precinct is Kamper Park,” he said. “We have 1,900 voters in that precinct, but it’s also the smallest venue we have as a voting precinct in the district – the largest number of voters meeting in the smallest venue.”

Mordica said he and David Hogan, District 1 supervisor and board president, had talked about the need for a larger facility.

“We’re limited in the area because it’s a neighborhood area and there aren’t a lot a lot of public buildings, which limits the places to vote in a public area,” said Mordica, who stressed that the proposed move had nothing to do with the people at Kamper Park. “They’ve been very gracious and very helpful, especially Lori Banchero, who we’ve worked with. They’ve always had someone there to open the facility and help in every way. The room is just too small.”

Mordica also mentioned the closeness of the voting machines. “At some point, we’re going to run into a privacy issue,” he said. “Your vote is supposed to be private, but it may not be because you are machine to machine to machine. “

He also noted the cables and electrical lines that stretch across the floor and pose a tripping hazard. “With so many people in such a small venue and so much going on, there’s room for mistakes because there is so much activity,” he said.

Mordica said they had felt kind of crippled concerning where they might move, but within a stone’s throw of the building at Kamper Park is a facility owned by Hardy Street Baptist Church. The church’s activity center, which once served as a burger place, sits on the corner of Hardy Street and 17th Avenue.

The election commissioner said it is a large room and similar to other precincts in his district like the Sigler Center and the precinct in Dixie. He said the facility also provides an adequate electrical supply for the voting machines.

The building also has a kitchen area and bathroom facilities adequate for the county’s use, as well as ample parking.

Mordica approached church pastor Scott Hanberry about the possibility of the county renting the facility to serve as a precinct for county elections.

“With Mr. (David) Miller’s help, he got me a sample contract for them to look over and see what their responsibilities might be to become a venue for a voting precinct,” Mordica said, noting that the church is receptive to the idea.

Mordica said he believes the proximity of the structure to the current voting precinct will alleviate a lot of confusion once a switch is made.

He stressed that this change he recommended would not be for the primary and general elections this year, but would take effect in 2020.

“People who are in the Kamper Park precinct will continue to vote at the current location throughout the rest of the year,” he said.

The deacons and trustees of the church have agreed to the sample ballot with a reimbursement of $150 each time it is used, to be paid for by the county.

Mordica said they wanted people to continue to vote, but the experience currently being offered is not very good. “I believe if we move to the church’s activity center it would be much better,” he said.

Hogan reiterated that the space provided by the zoo is too small.

“What we’ve seen in recent years is a lot of millennials moving into the Avenues,” he said. “We want to nurture that where we can, and I believe we need to do something to make the voting precinct more accommodating for the people who are coming to vote.”

District 2 Supervisor Charles Marshall said he would recommend changing the name of the precinct when the time comes. “I found that when you move a precinct, you need to change the name to avoid confusion,” he said.

For the time being, the board agreed to accept the rental agreement with Hogan making the motion and District 4 Supervisor Rod Woullard seconding the motion. The agreement is for a 10-year period, which will provide stability down the road.

The board will hold a public hearing on the morning following Jan. 1, 2020, so people are not confused.

Mordica said he had talked with Circuit Clerk Gwen Wilks, and her office would be ready to resubmit voter registrations cards to those registered voters in the precinct after the first of the year.

“It’s literally right across the street; I don’t think it will be a problem,” Mordica said.