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Only about 20 people attended a hearing to hear Roanoke officials explain the plan.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP, said the plan to reduce voting precincts diluted the black vote.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Fewer than 20 people came to hear the Roanoke Electoral Board make its pitch to consolidate and realign precincts Thursday, in the first of two public hearings on how or whether to change precinct lines last drawn in 1967.
The hearings are meant to help a specially appointed task force make a recommendation to the city council, a job it hopes to complete by May.
The electoral board last year proposed reducing the number of precincts in the city from 32 to 19. Last November, concerned about long lines of people waiting to vote, the council asked the task force to take another look.
The board had to draw lines that kept precincts compact and contiguous and that followed such landmarks as rivers, roads and railroads, secretary Melvin Williams told the task force. The board wanted to avoid splitting precincts between legislative districts and wanted to keep neighborhoods intact, he added.
“We think this will decrease the waits voters have,” Williams said.
One reason, Williams said, is that the board has only 64 electronic poll-books — the laptop computers that poll workers use to check that voters are registered and are in the right place. That means only two per precinct, no matter whether it has only 965 voters, as does Williamson Road No. 2, or 3,544, as does Washington Heights.
The board also has only 135 voting machines. Fewer precincts means places that now have only three or four, might get six or seven, Williams said. Larger precincts that now have seven or eight could get as many as 10 machines, he said.
Redrawing lines would ease pressure in many precincts that saw long waits in November, Williams said, pointing to the Peters Creek precinct as an example.
That precinct, which has 3,480 voters, would be split between two precincts, one with 1,986 and the other with 2,721 voters, according to the board’s maps and data.
The board’s map of proposed new precincts shows two of the largest would be in the northwestern quadrant of the city, in an area bounded by Hersherberger Road and Interstate 581 to the north, Peters Creek Road to the west and Melrose Avenue, 24th Street and the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks to the south. One precinct would have 3,753 voters and the other 3,791. The average size of the proposed new precincts would be 2,879 voters, the board’s map shows.
Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP, said she was concerned the plan was packing black residents into a handful of precincts.
“Why now and what is the reason for this reduction,” she said, “The African American vote is at risk of dilution.”
Gary Crawford, a member of the city Democratic Committee who lives in the Williamson Road area, said he felt many of his concerns about the board’s plan were eased after hearing Williams’ explanation.
“This is not about reducing, it is about realigning,” he said.
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