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Some Augusta residents are confused and frustrated by a polling place change

The picture depicts the burgundy brick Ross Township Hall in Ross Township. The glass front door has many different pieces of paper stuck to it, informing visitors of new things happening in the county. A gray-trimmed notice board can be seen to the right of the front door as well. On the far right of the image, library book and absentee ballot drop off boxes can be seen on the sidewalk. Lush green trees can be seen in the background.
Michael Symonds
The Ross Township Hall on July 2. Both of the township's polling places saw a location change, with Precinct 2 moving from the Yorkville Community Church to the Ross Township Hall. The new location of Precinct 1 has stirred controversy.

The controversial change of voting location has left some residents wondering how voters who cannot drive will get to the polls.

For decades, residents of Augusta voted at the village hall, which many can walk to from their homes. But in April, the Ross Township board moved the precinct’s polling place to the Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center, roughly two miles out of town.

Some residents say it is too far away for voters to access, and that the move was supposed to be conditional.

But Ross Township Clerk Mary Stage said they are mistaken about the terms of the vote.

Stage said the change was necessary because the August Village Hall does not meet state precinct requirements. She said the distance between voters and the tabulators is too small under the state's rules.

She added that the fire department next door was their next choice. However, uncertainty over construction involving the building lead to the decision to move to the YMCA.

“The fire barn needs work done to it. It needs a new roof. My understanding is the roof is leaked, so it'll probably need a new ceiling.”

The Augusta Fire Department, photographed July 1, sits next to the Augusta Village Hall in downtown Augusta. For bigger elections, voting was usually moved to the fire department to accommodate a larger turnout.
Michael Symonds
The Augusta Fire Department sits next to the Augusta Village Hall in downtown Augusta. Usually for bigger elections, voting is moved to here to accommodate a larger turnout.

The decision

Valerie Silkworth is on Augusta’s village council. She said the village understood the vote on moving Precinct 1 to be conditional.

“It was portrayed as 'either-or.' If there wasn't construction going on, we would still vote here, is what I was told.”

The minutes for the April Ross Township vote back this interpretation.

"Clerk Stage motioned to if necessary to move Precinct 1 to the Sherman Lake YMCA if the Augusta Fire Barn is under construction or an inspection rules it not safe for use, supported by Trustee Bekes. There was a roll call vote, the motion carried unanimously," the posted minutes read.

Augusta Council President John Thomas attended the April vote. He said he thought the move was only supposed to happen if the fire department was under construction during the August or November elections.

But, during a Augusta council meeting Tuesday night, Ross Township Clerk Mary Stage said the minutes are incomplete. She said important details were mistakenly left out.

“During our conversation during the meeting, it also included if the repairs had not been done or weren't scheduled. So, I'm sorry that didn't get into the motion," she said at an Augusta Village Board meeting Monday.

Some opponents of the decision said they’re concerned that elderly Augusta residents will not be able to reach the YMCA. Stage said those residents could vote absentee.

Michael Symonds reports for WMUK through the Report for America national service program.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.