TAZEWELL, Va. – Emotions are flaring in Tazewell County over proposed boundary line adjustments and polling precinct changes.
“The greatest majority of the polling places under consideration in the Northern District of the county are the most democratic,” Irma Mitchell, chair of the county’s Democratic Party, and one of several individuals who addressed the county board of supervisors Tuesday, said. “Some would suggest it is to suppress the vote by making it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote.”
Charles Orrock, a concerned citizen, also spoke in opposition to the proposed precinct changes.
“I attended two redistricting committee meetings, but in 2009 I worked on a primary campaign supporting one of the candidates,” Orrock said. “That experience had led me to really think about the recommendations of the redistricting committee, and I want to be specific about one in particular – Abbs Valley. To travel from the upper end of Abbs Valley to the new recommended place at the rescue squad on the other end of Boissevain significantly increases the travel time for all voters. I will be willing to bet there will be a sizable decrease in voter turnout because of the proposed changes.
Tom Childress, chairman of the Northern District Democratic Committee, said the redistricting committee’s recommendations were “an attack on the Northern District.” Childress went on to call the committee proposals “outrageous.”
“The goal should be higher turnout, not lower turnout,” Childress said.
Anne Robinson of Falls Mills urged the board not to move a polling precinct from Falls Mills.
“I think you would lose a whole lot of voting people if that section is moved to Pocahontas, Abbs Valley or wherever,” Robinson said.
Robinson also spoke regarding wind turbines. She said Dominion Energy is still planning to proceed with the East River Mountain wind farm.
“Dominion is not backing down at all,” Robinson said. “They are still pushing this. I really hope you guys will revisit the idea of having a wind energy ordinance. Because they aren’t going away.”
Sandra Warden, who served as the recording secretary for the redistricting committee until March 1, said the committee has many misconceptions about Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements as they relate to making polling precincts handicap accessible.
Warden said the proposed changes would impact rural voters who would lose interest in voting, or become confused, if the changes recommended by the committee were implemented.
Phillip Horton, chairman of the county’s redistricting committee, said the recommended changes were not politically motivated.
“I have done my best to make these recommendations and to look at all we need to do to meet all compliance,” Horton said. “I want to assure you and look you in the eye, and look at all of these people in the eye and tell you that I absolutely do not have a political agenda I’m working from,” Horton said. “We have done our best – Debbie (Barrett) and I have worked tirelessly – to look and see what is the very best thing we can do for the citizens of Tazewell County and make sure everything is taken care of.”
Horton said the committee was charged with meeting the ADA requirements.
“You can’t just propose you are going to fix the parking lot and then not take care of it,” Horton said.
The board members debated the redistricting issue until about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night. Two public hearings were slated for April 26 following a prolonged debate by the board members.
Southern District Supervisor Mike Hymes pleaded with his fellow board members to schedule a public hearing only on the proposed boundary line changes – and not the actual precinct changes. After a prolonged debate, Hymes’ motion was seconded by Western District Supervisor John Absher and Northern District Supervisor Jim Campbell and passed 3-1 with board chairman and Eastern District Supervisor David Anderson abstaining.
“We spent a whole year studying the wind turbines,” Hymes said. “This is a bigger issue than the wind turbines ever will be. We are talking about changing precincts and making it harder for people to vote. I’m saying have more time to talk about it. Have a year to talk about it. We are getting shoved into a two-week time period.”
However, after Hymes’ motion passed, the board members then questioned why a public hearing couldn’t be held on all of the committee’s recommendations. A second motion was then proposed that would allow for public input on the proposed precinct changes.
“I feel like there should at least be a public hearing to receive input,” Campbell said. “And I don’t care if there is no action on any of them.”
“I’m fine if we just have a motion, and not take action in this election cycle,” Northwestern District Supervisor Seth White said.
White said Tuesday’s discussion was an opportunity for the redistricting committee to meet again and to take a second look at all of the ideas and issues that were addressed.
County Attorney Eric Young said the board could advertise separate public hearings. He proposed not making any recommended changes effective until December.
White then introduced a second motion to hold a second public hearing on April 26 that would look at the other items not made in the previous motion made by Hymes with no recommended changes to take effect until the 2012 election cycle.
Young asked Barrett, the county’s election registrar, if the delay would jeopardize Department of Justice approval of the board’s mandatory redistricting process. Barrett said she didn’t think it would.
Several of the redistricting committee proposals include changing boundaries to increase population in the county’s Western District, which experienced the greatest population losses in the 2010 Census. For example, the committee proposed changing the area between McGuire Valley Road and Bandy Road from the Northern District to the Western District.
The committee also proposed combining other precincts, including consolidating the Abbs Valley and Boissevain precincts into a single precinct with a polling place on Boissevain Road in Bluefield, Va. The Adria and Gap Store precincts also are proposed to be combined into a new Baptist Valley East Precinct.
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