Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Electoral board proposes combining six Roanoke City precincts

Lines at Presidential Election 2008

Dwindling poll workers, lack of available locations, cost savings and several council members’ interest spurred Roanoke City’s Electoral Board to set out a plan to reduce/combine voting precincts throughout the city said Electoral Board member and attorney Melvin Williams in a phone call. They set out to do just that with new census numbers from 2010.

According to Williams City Attorney Bill Hackworth contacted the board asking them to prepare to talk to council in a work session about the precincts. Williams wanted to wait until after the November elections but Hackworth wanted to start now because the process would be lengthy.

“That resulted in this initial proposal … there were obvious precincts they could combine,” said Williams. Hackworth sent city council an email with the legalities of it all. That resulted in Williams and Registrar Lavern Grigsby showing up at Monday’s work session. They waited for three hours.

The conversation Monday turned into a “process only discussion” said Williams. After an hour-long back and forth he said, “they decided that within 60 days the Electoral Board is going to get council a proposed precinct realignment/combination.

Williams said council wanted to create something like a “task force” made up of constituencies to include the SCLC, NAACP, members of the Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities and neighborhood groups. Public hearings would be held and the proposal would go before council for adoption and approval by the Department Of Justice.

A firm timeline was not set. Williams speculated that it could be completed by the November, 2012 elections. “It could become a hotly contested issue,” according to several council members’ comments Williams said. “It probably will change but I’m not sure how right now – It might even add some others to combine or realign,” he said.

Williams said he got the impression from council’s questioning that Hackworth didn’t forward their recommendations to council for Monday’s work session.

In the August 9 email to City Attorney Bill Hackworth Williams wrote, “These proposed changes would eliminate 6 precincts. Each precinct is staffed by a minimum of 5 officers of elections, and after accounting for additional staffing at the combined, larger precincts, still results in a savings of approximately 20 officers of election. The Electoral Board passed these proposed realignments unanimously, and Registrar Grigsby fully supports and endorses the proposed realignments.”

Council member Bill Bestpitch had mentioned reducing precincts at a council meeting a year ago during a vote to move three precincts. The “bail out” issue was brought up though not on the table at the time. The three precincts were no longer available and it was a struggle to find suitable handicap accessible locations that were also in close proximity to the lost precincts.

A “bail out” would bypass the lengthy approval process by the Department of Justice that occurs when a precinct is moved. It is meant to ensure there is no disenfranchisement of minorities.

There was a ruckus over that with Brenda Hale President of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP and Bishop Edward Mitchell President of Roanoke’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference objecting to any thoughts of a “bail out” in August 2010.

Long time SCLC member and activist Jeff Artis resigned from the SCLC over it.

Artis said at the time, “There is no racism in voting in Roanoke, Va. There hasn’t been for quite some time. If people in Roanoke, Va. don’t or won’t register to vote or vote on Election Day, they only have themselves to blame.” He bluntly called the opposition of Hale and Mitchell “wrong in withholding their support [for the bailout].” 

In the August 9 email the precincts suggested to be combined were:

  1. Raleigh Court 3 and Raleigh Court 4, with polling place at Patrick Henry High School,
  2. Williamson Road 2 and Williamson Road 6, with polling place at Preston Park Recreation
  3. Williamson Road 3 and Lincoln Terrace, with polling place at Lincoln Terrace Elementary
  4. Raleigh Court 1 and Wasena, with new polling place to be determined
  5. Raleigh Court 5 and Fishburn Park, with polling place at Fishburn Park Elementary School,
  6. Highland 2 and Jefferson 2, with polling place at Highland Park Elementary School (Additionally, we propose moving the precinct line between Jefferson 2 and South Roanoke 1 from Rosalind to Carolina between 24th and 26th Streets to allow the current polling place for Jefferson 2, Crystal Spring Baptist Church, to become the polling place for South Roanoke 1. This would move the polling place for South Roanoke 1 out of Fire Station No. 8. The Board and the Registrar have slowly been eliminating the use of fire stations as polling places to avoid the risk of interfering with emergency response.)

The Electoral Board put a lot of thought into the proposal. It included making the precincts as close to the median number of voters as possible – 2750. They were careful to not split precincts or inconvenience voters. Williams said they would go back and review their proposal for changes.

THE EMAIL

From: Melvin E. Williams

Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2011 10:37 PM

To: ‘William.Hackworth

Cc: ‘Lavern.Grigsby

Subject: Precinct Realignment

Mr. Hackworth:

The Electoral Board and Registrar Lavern Grigsby met today in anticipation of an upcoming work session with City Council to discuss precinct realignment. The Board and Registrar Grigsby developed a proposal for precinct realignment that I have set forth below, along with explanation of our considerations in developing the proposal. The proposal is set it forth for Council’s consideration prior to the work session.

Please let us know the date and time for the work session so that we might reserve the time on our respective calendars.

The Electoral Board took into consideration the following factors concerning precinct realignment: 

1. We initially agreed not to combine any precincts that would result in a split precinct, meaning a precinct divided among House of Delegates, State Senate or congressional districts. With current information, this could be a problem only with the House of Delegates: the City of Roanoke is divided among the 17th and 11th House districts, but no split precincts exist otherwise. (Whether the aligment of congressional districts might create split precincts remains to be seen, unless I have failed to see an approved plan from the General Assembly for congressional districts.) This meant that we would not combine any of the five (5) precincts that remain in the 17th House district with any precincts that are in the 11th House district. Further, none of the precincts remaining in the 17th House district are amendable to being combined with one another due to the number of voters in those precincts and/or the locations of those precincts relative to one another. The five (5) precincts still in the 17th House district are Garden City, Grandin Court, Jefferson-Riverdale, Lee-Hi and Monterey.

2. The Board then noted that the Virginia Code requires at least 500 but not more than 5,000 voters per precinct (Va. Code Sect. 24.2-307). Therefore, we agreed to attempt to create precincts with a voter population as nearest to 2,750 as possible, i.e., the median of the range 500 to 5,000.

3. After that we agreed that the number of precincts should be decreased to save costs and efficiently allocate decreasing resources. Specifically, officers of elections (poll workers) are an aging and dwindling lot in the City, as are locations that are convenient and qualified to serve as polling locations and under the control of persons who will agree to allow the location to be used as a polling place.

4. Also, we agreed that, to the extent possible, we should combine existing, contiguous precincts and avoid redrawing precinct lines. This simplifies the process, and ensures that we do not create any split precincts.

5. Finally, precincts lines should take into account the geography of our City so as to not overly inconvenience voters in traveling to their appointed polling place.

With those considerations in mind we developed and hereby propose for consideration by City Council the following adjustments (in no particular order) to our current precincts:

1. Combine Raleigh Court 3 and Raleigh Court 4, with polling place at Patrick Henry High School, resulting in voting population of approximately 2,574 (Currently, these polling places are located at Patrick Henry High School and the former Raleigh Court Elementary School, which schools are georgaphically very close to one another and accessed by the same drive, which often results in voters showing up at the wrong precinct.);

2. Combine Williamson Road 2 and Williamson Road 6, with polling place at Preston Park Recreation Center, resulting in voting population of approximately 2,476 (Currently, these polling places are across the street from one another.);

3. Combine Williamson Road 3 and Lincoln Terrace, with polling place at Lincoln Terrace Elementary School, resulting in voting population of approximately 2,675;

4. Combine Raleigh Court 1 and Wasena, with new polling place to be determined, resulting in voting population of approximately 3,072 (The current polling places for these precincts are not ideal: parking at RC1 and ADA access at Wasena.);

5. Combine Highland 2 and Jefferson 2, with polling place at Highland Park Elementary School, resulting in voting population of approximately 3,603 (Additionally, we propose moving the precinct line between Jefferson 2 and South Roanoke 1 from Rosalind to Carolina between 24th and 26th Streets to allow the current polling place for Jefferson 2, Crystal Spring Baptist Church, to become the polling place for South Roanoke 1. This would move the polling place for South Roanoke 1 out of Fire Station No. 8. The Board and the Registrar have slowly been eliminating the use of fire stations as polling places to avoid the risk of interfering with emergency response.); and

6. Combine Raleigh Court 5 and Fishburn Park, with polling place at Fishburn Park Elementary School, resulting in voting population of approximately 2,515.

These proposed changes would eliminate 6 precincts. Each precinct is staffed by a minimum of 5 officers of elections, and after accounting for additional staffing at the combined, larger precincts, still results in a savings of approximately 20 officers of election. 

The Electoral Board passed these proposed realignments unanimously, and Registrar Grigsby fully supports and endorses the proposed realignments.

Melvin E. Williams, Vice-Chair, Electoral Board for the City of Roanoke

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Elections, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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Comments (4)


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Jack Mcguire

September 7th, 2011 at 8:25 AM    


We can’t get anyone to turn out as it is. More confusion and moving polling places will further reduce the vote.


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