RADFORD – Poll workers seem likely to outnumber voters in Montgomery County during the Aug. 19 special election to replace retired state Sen. Phil Puckett.
That’s because just three voters — who actually live inside the Radford city limits — are eligible to take part in the contest for the 38th Virginia Senate District. The situation is an unusual consequence, the result of a nearly 30-year-old annexation agreement that left a small island of county inside the independent city of Radford.
“As far as we know this is the only situation like this in Virginia,” Radford Voter Registrar Tracy Howard said recently.
Montgomery County is likely to spend $1,000 or more to open a polling place, create absentee ballots and set up the other mechanisms of an election for its three possible voters, Montgomery Voter Registrar Randy Wertz added.
The Montgomery County-Radford voting situation, of course, is just one of many unusual outcomes of Puckett’s abrupt retirement in June. The departure of the Russell County Democrat effectively gave Republicans control of the Virginia Senate and ended a stand-off over the state budget. It killed Democrats’ immediate hopes of expanding Medicaid. It triggered a federal investigation into alleged promises of a judgeship for Puckett’s daughter and of a seat for Puckett on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
Next month’s special election is a contest between Del. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County; Democrat Mike Hymes, a member of Tazewell County’s Board of Supervisors; and Independent Rick Mullins, a funeral home director from Clintwood.
The roots of what promises to be an odd election for Montgomery County go back to 1986, when Radford annexed 928 acres, including land that would become the High Meadows subdivision.
The residents of two properties on U.S. 11 – now Radford’s East Main Street – did not want to become part of Radford. When the annexation agreement was approved, the properties were held out of it and stayed part of Montgomery County.
Decades later, the inhabitants of the two properties still pay taxes to Montgomery County. They vote for Montgomery County supervisors, not Radford City Council members.
When Howard opens Radford’s polls for the city’s voters, the residents of the two Main Street properties must leave the city to cast ballots at Montgomery County’s D-3 precinct polling place at Bethel United Methodist Church.
It is the boundaries of the 38th state Senate District, redrawn in 2011, that make next month’s special election a bit more peculiar for Radford and Montgomery County.
The Senate district stretches from the Kentucky state line and ends at Radford’s eastern limits. The tiny piece of Montgomery County that is inside Radford is the only part of the county that is in 38th Senate district.
Wertz said that he would have at least three election workers staffing the Bethel church polling place on Aug. 19, while others must oversee the tallying of any absentee ballots turned in by the three voters ahead of the special election.
The county-city voter situation is among 30 so-called “split precincts” in Montgomery County, Wertz said.
The splits are caused by local government boundaries and various state and national election districts whose borders do not align with the county’s precinct divisions.
The result is that the county must prepare numerous versions of its ballots during most elections. This has resulted in residents being unsure which offices they are supposed to vote for. Candidates have been confused about which areas they should campaign in.
Del. Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg, whose 12th House of Delegates District covers the parts of Radford and Montgomery County affected by upcoming special election, wrote in an email this week that he and other state officials have tried for two years to adjust election districts and reduce the number of splits.
Those attempts failed at least partly because they were tied into efforts to re-draw other districts across Virginia, Yost wrote.
“I plan on introducing a bill in the 2015 session that includes only the technical adjustments for Montgomery County and not the entire state,” Yost wrote.
On Radford’s East Main Street, residents of the two properties that are part of Montgomery County declined to say who they supported in the upcoming special election.
James Trump laughed and said he didn’t like to talk about being part of the county, because he feared the city might get wind of it and try again to annex his land.
“I just stay here and it’s peaceful and quiet,” Trump said with a chuckle.