Douglas County's Little Courthouses
Attempts to make voting convenient is nothing new.
Though the phrase "government by the people" was included in the Constitution in 1787 it took many years, numerous stuggles and a few amendments to ring true.
It still doesn't ring clear, unfortunately.
Citizens of the United States have many rights, but we have responsibilities as well, and some overlap. For example, we have the right to vote, but we also have the responsibility to vote.
Yes, if you choose to stay home and you fail to vote you are part of the problem. You keep us from having "government by the people," and it might just be my little old opinion, but I think it's one of the major problems we experience as a nation. Imagine how our national, state, and local elections would be impacted if every citizen chose to be responsible and exercised their right to vote.
In the beginning "government by the people" didn't ring true because large segments of the population were left off voting rolls and out of the process.
For the first sixty years or so our nation only allowed white males who owned property the vote. This meant only a very small percentage of the population had a voice in the government.
Gradually, states dropped the property requirement and voter rolls included all white men. Later, 1870 the 15th Amendment passed allowing males who had been slaves to vote as well, followed in 1920 by the 19th Amendment, which finally gave the vote to women. In 1924, American Indians were given the right to vote by granting them U.S. citizenship. Finally, "govenment by the people"–all of the people–was possible.
Still, people don't seem to take their right/responsibility to vote very seriously. Over the last fifty years–from 1960 to 2010–the percentage of the voting age population who actually voted in national elections only rose above 60 percent once–just once–and that was back in 1964. In 2010, the percentage was a dismal 37.8 percent.
Earlier this month citizens in the City of Douglasville were asked to turn out to vote for Mayor. The 2007 Census indicated the population of Douglasville had reached 32,298 people, yet only 2,662 citizens exercised their right/responsibility to vote. I realize the Census includes all of the people including those who are not part of the voting population, but of the appoximately 27,000 difference between the Census total and the number of folks who voted you can't convince me they were all children and fell below the voting age.
Most certainly we have a a severe problem with voter apathy. So, what should be done? Survey after survey indicates one of the reasons for voter apathy has to do with the inconvenience of voting.
The first Tuesday in November–Election Day–is inconvenient because it interferes with working hours. The only reason the first Tuesday in November has traditionally been election day was to accommodate the farmer, a group that dominated the U.S. population in 1845 when election officials acoss the nation were trying to make elections more uniform.
Before automobiles were available farmers needed three days to vote. They needed a day to travel, a day to vote and conduct other business, and a day to travel home. Monday through Wednesday worked and didn't interfere with days of worship which at the time could have interfered. Knowing this I'm actually ashamed I've ever fussed about the fifteen minutes it has taken me to vote in the past.
However, today we live in a much more urban atmosphere, and we have been groomed to expect convenience in our everyday life, so of course we expect convenience with voting.
Voters have requested more choice regarding the process. One idea is to open up absentee voting to include any and all excuses.
Here in Douglasville we have already seen our voting period extended to include the days leading up to the traditional election day in November with early voting periods.
We are fortunate here in Douglas County we have early votiing, but making voting more convenient for Douglas County citizens is nothing new.
Many years ago, several little courthouses were built acoss the county–one in each polling district–to serve as polling places, meeting locations and to help citizens conduct business with the county without having to make the trip to "town."
However, in the late 1990s the remaining little one-room courthouses were under attack from groups of people who were wanting them demolished. In her book concerning Douglas County history, Fannie Mae Davis advises the remaining little courthouses were about to become relics of the past.
As new schools and fire departments were built across the county the need for the little courthouses diminished, and over time the buildings had been neglected and fallen into disrepair even though they most certainly had a historic past.
Wes Tallon, Douglas County's Director of Communications and Community Relations, tells me the little courthouse in Lithia Springs was located on South Sweetwater Road next to the former fire department that was torn down a few years ago. Not only was the Lithia Springs little courthouse a former polling place, it had also been the location of the first public library in Lithia Springs, too.
The Mt. Carmel little courthouse was located on Pope Road next to what many remember as the potato barn.
Bob Smith tells me when his father, R.L. Smith, was Chairman of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners during the early 1960s he held townhall meetings in the little courthouses and tried to keep up with the painting and repairs.
In her book, Davis refers to the little courthouses in Fairplay and Chapel Hill in particular stating during the late 1990s citizens in those areas felt the time had come to remove the historic buildings.
At the time R.L. Dodson was the Chairperson of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. He acknowledged the buildings had suffered deterioration but wanted to move slowly before making a decision. He wanted to check with the Justices of the Peace in those areas and the Probate Judge to analyze the situation and explore their options. It seems very prudent since the Fairplay courthouse had been used for elections as recently as the early 1990s.
In the end it was finally decided the little courthouse at Fairplay would be moved to the campus of South Douglas Elementary School where it serves as a storage shed today.
The little courthouse at Chapel Hill and another referred to as Middle Courthouse located on Post Road were saved, repaired and are still around to be seen. Both little courthouses bear plaques from the Douglas County Tourism and Historic Commission who helped to identify their historic significance and advised the Douglas County Board of Commissioners who ultimately has control of the buildings.
I'm hopeful that Douglas County teachers include the story of the little courthouses in any teaching unit that addresses election history, government, and how our nation strives to "govern by the people."