Election board delays action on precincts

Published 10:50 am Thursday, March 27, 2014

A decision on how to best divvy up Warren County’s 22 voting precincts isn’t likely to come from the Election Commission until midsummer at the earliest.

And prospects for that time frame might be affected by how often the five-member panel decides to hold basic meetings.

Chairwoman Sara Carlson Dionne, the commissioner for District 4, said Wednesday any move any discussion on how to reconcile parts of Jett and Tingleville precincts affected by redistricting after the 2010 census.

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“It’s my understanding that we don’t have to it until 90 days before an election,” Dionne said after a tense meeting with fellow commissioners. Advice to hold off on a decision “until we’re not closing in on an election” came from District 2 Supervisor William Banks, Dionne said. Banks is the board’s vice-president.

A map approved by county supervisors March 17 but rejected this past Monday had moved part of Jett precinct west of U.S. 61 South and south of Interstate 20 to the Elks Lodge polling place. A second part of Jett, across 61 along Dana Road, was approved but questioned since it didn’t touch the rest of the precinct. Another change would have moved Greenbriar subdivision to the YMCA precinct. The change would have affected 265 voters.

Supervisors also cited commissioners’ hasty meeting, apparently held without notice to two members of the commission, for nixing the planned changes.

On Wednesday, Dionne cited advice from the attorney general’s office that it only had to give a five-day notice for meetings held via teleconference. Such opinions, whether as a formal answer to a formal question posed to the AG’s office or not, is advisory in nature and does not carry the force of law.

Wednesday’s session was the first session commissioners Dionne, Retha Summers, Elva Smith-Tolliver and Lonnie Wooley convened since then. The lone resolution that passed, on a 3-1 vote with one abstention, was to recommend the county board approve voter registration cards be mailed to all 30,000 or so voters in Warren County. The cards will be mailed by the circuit clerk’s office.

The commission, which enrolls voters, assigns polling places, certifies non-party candidates, conducts all general and special elections and certifies results to the Secretary of State’s Office. Members of the panel are elected every four years during the presidential election cycle.

Meetings of the panel are held irregularly, usually timed around conference calls with the Secretary of State’s Office. Dionne pushed to meet Mondays at 1 p.m. regardless of pressing business with the state’s election calendar, citing a 57-page stack of jury summonses returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable to the circuit clerk’s office. The indication was that the 100 or so non-existent addresses in the stack could be remedied by more meetings, and, more action on the part of the commission to purge the names from the voter rolls.

Still, the notion rankled Summers and Smith-Tolliver, both of whom weren’t made aware of the March 17 meeting that resulted in the maps that were thrown out anyway. Dionne, Summers and Smith-Tolliver interrupted one another several times during the session’s first half hour over that and whether the irregularly-scheduled meeting was in fact a special called meeting or not.

“You want to meet every month when there’s no reason to meet every month,” Smith-Tolliver said. “I’m not in school.”

Dionne first said the returned summonses and other pertinent election information appeared on commissioner’s desks this past Monday, then corrected herself to say Tuesday. Commissioners are not compelled by law to report to the office daily.

“I need time to read all this that you’ve placed on our desks,” Summers said. “We don’t come here every day.”