Electoral Board members Rev. Carl Tinsley and Melvin Williams with Branda Hale President of NAACP Roanoke Chapter
It will be a year in January when Electoral Board member Melvin Williams introduced the consolidation of voting precincts in Roanoke City though it was actually first brought up in September of 2011. Electoral board proposes combining six Roanoke City precincts. In May of 2012 the Electoral Board was instructed to form a “work group.” In June council discusses moving May elections to November and asks Williams the status of consolidating precincts. Williams tells council he was waiting on them to arrange and schedule the work groups and he would attend.
Council asks city administration to help schedule locations to hold the open houses on the precinct consolidation plan.
Multiple locations and dates to review the new precinct maps were set up. A total of 17 people showed up. One open house at Preston Park school had no one show. City staff and Electoral Board members attended with poster boards and laptops ready to answer any questions. Each open house was two hours long.
A public hearing was held on November 19 after the long lines of election day, November 6. The public hearing didn’t go smoothly. Ten people spoke with two objecting to the plan in lieu of election day complaints. Brenda Hale President of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP objected.
Councilman Sherman Lea was livid about the long lines at the polls. Lea himself had to wait two hours to vote at Ruffner, the Peters Creek Precinct in Northwest City. He blamed it in part on voter suppression.
The public hearing turned into more of a defensive exercise. The blame danced around from inexperienced poll workers to computer poll book unfamiliarity to lack of planning – no decision or direction came from city council.
Monday it was decided to postpone any decision until the next council meeting on December 17. Councilman Sherman Lea said that citizens needed more time to absorb the changes.
Councilman Ray Farris said “I would be hopeful that the electoral board would want to take another look … look at additional resources as part of the reduction.” He wanted to wait and defer to the electoral board’s expertise he said. He wasn’t ready to vote on it yet.
Councilman Bill Bestpitch said that the numbers of registered voters in each precinct needed to make sense. “We need to take more of a proactive roll … any proposal needs strong support from the community.”
Bestpitch wanted another work group. It would consist of an electoral board member. NAACP member, SCLC member, School Board member, Blue Ridge Independent Living and Neighborhood Advocates member, one member of the Republican City Committee and one member of the Democratic City Committee. Bestpitch said to “start from square one” and to “get buy-in from the community at large.”
Though he said timing didn’t matter it needs to be decided by the end of the year – go to the DOJ for it to take effect in a June primary if needed. Councilman Court Rosen agreed not to take a vote and wait for a solid plan. A plan that makes changes that are good for voters and the registrar he said. “The community needs to understand why it is being done.”