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A Roanoke task force charged with developing a new voting precinct plan says too many voters are not informed.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Many initial opponents to a plan to redraw Roanoke’s voting precincts were won over once they understood that reducing the number from 32 to 20 will help balance voters among precincts and better distribute poll books, voting machines and workers. All were factors leading to a very long, tiring and emotionally charged presidential Election Day last fall.
The plan has survived a thorough vetting and minor tweaking and was unanimously endorsed by a special task force whose members were appointed because of their diverse political and societal viewpoints. If a better plan exists that respects natural boundaries, keeps districts compact and does not split delegate, senatorial or congressional districts, no one has offered it.
Roanoke City Council on Monday finally agreed to move forward with the task force’s revision to the Roanoke Electoral Board’s plan by having an ordinance prepared to change the 1967 precinct map, which has grown more flawed and inequitable as the decades passed. Objections, though, still will follow. Already Mayor David Bowers and Councilman Sherman Lea stand ready to vote against. Not to the map, but to vague charges that polling places might be inaccessible.
A few things: Too many polling places now are hard to reach, are not served by Valley Metro, are not friendly to the disabled and have too few places to park and seats for voters to rest. Having fewer precincts will actually ease this strain, as the electoral board will have better choices to make within the new precincts. Council members truly concerned about getting voters to the polls can work with Valley Metro to have longer and more varied runs during election days.
But most of all, council and the electoral board could do a much better job informing voters about the process. The task force found that too many residents were unaware that they could have qualified to vote an absentee ballot, rather than stand in line; they were unaware of curb-side assistance and did not understand they did not need to be physically present to vote.
An intensive education program will be required to have better informed voters, no matter where they cast their ballot.
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