Church fire may force precinct change

By Tom Joyce -

DOBSON — In addition to the property damage it caused, a fire that destroyed a church in the Toast community earlier this week could affect the local electoral process.

That’s because Faith Baptist Church on South Franklin Road has served as the polling location for the Mount Airy No. 8 precinct for 10 years, and it was scheduled to do so once again for a general election coming up in November, slightly more than two months away.

The church, located in the vicinity of Franklin Elementary School, burned Monday evening as the result of an electrical problem.

“That was certainly a heartbreaking thing to see,” said Susan Jarrell, Surry County Board of Elections director.

While Jarrell’s immediate concern this week was expressing sympathy for the Faith Baptist pastor and congregation, the impact on the upcoming election also was in the back of her mind.

“We’ll probably have a temporary alternate polling place for the November election,” Jarrell said. “We are assuming we’ll probably need to move.”

That is not totally definite at this point, with the county elections director explaining that the area of the church which has hosted voters in recent years was not destroyed by the blaze.

However, cleanup work and construction in its aftermath could make polling at that site impractical for the Nov. 6 election, Jarrell acknowledged, saying the situation will need to be addressed with Randy Edwards, the Faith Baptist Church pastor.

“We have certainly not reached out to Randy or the church yet,” the elections official said earlier this week, pointing out that the attention of Edwards and other church leaders now is focused on more important matters than the election.

Although alternate voting locations in the South Franklin Road area have loosely been eyed, the process is not far along.

A polling location must be finalized no later than 45 days before the election, with Sept. 22 looming as that deadline, Jarrell said.

The Mount Airy No. 8 precinct had 2,075 registered voters as of this week. “It’s one of the larger polling places,” Jarrell said.

“If we do end up changing their polling place, each of those voters will get a letter from our office,” the elections director added.

Formerly at school

Before Faith Baptist Church began serving as the polling location for the Mount Airy No. 8 precinct, votes were cast at the nearby Franklin Elementary School for many years.

The change occurred in 2008.

At that time, the reasons cited for the switch to the Faith Baptist gymnasium behind the church included limited access and parking at the school.

The campus also was problematic due to allowing the public to access unauthorized parts of it while voting was under way, which put students at risk.

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.