By Nick Nunn
The Board of Elections held a meeting on July 18 to prepare for public hearings on the board’s proposed precinct consolidation plan, which will take place on July 25 at 7 p.m. and July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Board of Elections building.
The proposed precinct consolidation plan would involve reducing the number of current voting precincts in Morgan County from 11 precincts to five precincts, whose boundaries would map onto the current dividing lines of the five districts in Morgan County.
Board Member Helen Butler expressed her opinions about what the focus of the public hearing presentation should be by examining the viewpoint of the citizens that will be watching the presentation.
“Tell me the purpose and the rationale for doing this,” began Butler. “Show me the current makeup of my district – where they are on the map so I can see them. Show me the proposed changes highlighting both the current and the proposed, then tell me how I’ll be impacted by the change. Then tell me some of the rationale of why it is so much better for me.”
Elections Supervisor Bobby Howington showed the board a PowerPoint presentation that he had created when the precinct consolidation plan was in its early form months before. Although the board recognized that it addressed the issue of the voting complications that were created once Morgan County was redistricted after the census in 2010 – including that the Board of Elections had to prepare 57 separate ballots during a recent partisan election – the board thought the presentation wasn’t suitable in its current form for the public hearings.
Board Member David Moore also prepared a presentation for the board, which raised conflict between board members when Moore asserted in the presentation that the proposed plan will create “more accommodating” polling places.
Butler expressed concerns with whether or not the proposed precincts will, in fact, be more accommodating, and Board Member Avery Jackson stated that he feels that the voters who will be forced to travel farther to vote if the proposed plan is adopted will be “penalized” by the consolidation.
“I don’t see why we need to change it,” said Jackson, referring to the current precinct map.
After making little headway concerning the content of the presentation for the public hearing, the board briefly considered postponing the hearings but decided against postponement. Instead, the board decided on a schedule that would allow Butler to create a presentation that the board would be able to see, make changes to and then approve again before the public hearing on July 25.
“I, for one, don’t want [Howington] presenting anything to the public that I haven’t seen and approved,” said Moore.
During the meeting, the board also spoke with City of Madison Mayor Bruce Gilbert about the city’s recent denial of a Board of Elections request regarding the possible use of the City of Madison Municipal Complex as a polling place.
Gilbert told the board that he should have strongly suggested to the city council that they table the vote regarding the request until a member of the Board of Elections could be there to speak in favor of the request.
Referring to the Board of Elections members, Gilbert said, “We shouldn’t be denying them something without having them come before us and talk about it.”
Gilbert told the board that he could not assure them that the vote would have gone otherwise had a board member been there to represent the board, but he did recommend that the board file the request again.
“I think that you should come back and make the request,” said Gilbert.
Madison Council Member Mike Naples, who spoke against the council’s acceptance of the Board of Election’s request, was in attendance during the Board of Elections meeting and defended his choice to address his stance on the consolidation plan during the council vote on the request.
Naples voiced his concern with the proposed precinct consolidation plan and its relation to the now defunct sections of the Voting Rights Act, which would have mandated preclearance before any voting law changes, saying, “Although preclearance is no longer a requisite, you gentlemen and ladies are still required to have a clear conscience relative to any decisions you make relative to voting.”
The board also briefly discussed a recent change in legislation that will require 45 days of absentee balloting regarding the Uninformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. This change could push primary voting in 2014 to the earlier date of June 3, which would put an additional election in the current fiscal year.
Although the board decided to inform the county that there may be an additional election in the next fiscal year, which may require more funds than originally allocated to the Board of Elections in the fiscal year 2014, members decided to take no further action until the state legislature has more time to address how the changes will affect the individual counties.
Regarding consolidation of voting precincts
Thursday, July 25 at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, July 30 at 7 p.m.
Board of Elections building, 434 Hancock St., Madison