SERENITY NOW: Warren County precinct lines approved, with contention from District 3

Published 4:33 pm Monday, August 1, 2022

The Warren County Board of Supervisors approved voting precinct lines on Monday, but not without multiple points of contention presented by District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson.

Districts 1, 2, 4 and 5 precinct lines were met with no objections following discussions at the board’s July 25 meeting.

“We’re missing one and that’s Seren; I relayed that to our election commissioner that we were going to keep Seren as a polling place,” Jackson said.

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The board proceeded to vote unanimously on precinct lines for the county, not including polling place locations. However, after the vote, Jackson stated she took issue with the removal of Seren event venue, 2000 Drummond St., as it was not marked on the proposed precinct lines map.

District 3 Election Commissioner Elva Smith, the longest-serving commissioner, responded to Jackson and explained that the Seren event venue could not be used as a polling place because it was within the boundaries of the American Legion precinct. According to Mississippi Election Code Article 9, it is illegal to have two polling places within one precinct:

“Each county shall be divided into supervisors districts, which shall be the same as those for the election of members of the board of supervisors, and may be subdivided thereafter into voting precincts; and there shall be only one (1) voting place in each voting precinct, but the supervisors districts, voting precincts and voting places as now fixed in each county shall remain until altered. Provided, however, that such boundaries, if altered, shall conform to visible natural or artificial boundaries such as streets, highways, railroads, rivers, lakes, bayous or other obvious lines of demarcation except county lines and municipal corporate limits. The board of supervisors, no later than April 1, 1987, shall notify the office of the Secretary of State of the boundary of each supervisors district and voting precinct as then fixed and shall provide said office a legal description and a map of each supervisors district and voting precinct and shall indicate the voting place in each such district.”

Seren and American Legion Post No. 3 are 0.2 miles apart, or a one-minute walk.

According to Tony Wonch, of Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD), there is a loophole to have two polling places within one precinct’s geographic area.

“You can’t have two polling places for one precinct,” Wonch told The Post. “If the adjacent precinct didn’t have a suitable polling place — if there wasn’t a big enough building or a church or business wasn’t willing to open its doors — as close as it makes sense, you can have a polling place that is not within the precinct. You would only have one for that precinct.”

Because there is a suitable polling place in the precinct now known as Plumbers and Pipefitters, the statute would not allow for voters in that precinct to vote at Seren venue.

During redistricting, which the county approved in April, district lines were redrawn so the Plumbers and Pipefitters precinct, formerly in District 5, would now be in District 3. District 3 also absorbed Parkside Playhouse off Indiana Avenue, and that precinct is now known as Traveler’s Rest.

Voters who previously voted in the Cherry Street precinct, at Seren, will now vote at Plumbers and Pipefitters, according to the map. What Jackson proposed instead, is for the Plumbers and Pipefitters polling place to be moved to Seren, even though it is not located within that precinct.

Also during redistricting, an effort was made to closely align county precincts with the city of Vicksburg’s precincts to eliminate voter confusion. As such, the precinct line between American Legion and Plumbers and Pipefitters was drawn along the city’s east-to-west ward line.

Jackson and Smith met in person last Tuesday to review the District 3 lines.

District 5 Supervisor and Board President Kelle Barfield presented the notion of moving the American Legion polling place to Seren, but Jackson said that was not a possibility.

“I want to go on record. It’s not an either/or. I do not want a polling place closed for the existing residents who were not (impacted by redistricting),” Jackson said. “The new polling places are for new residents who were picked up in the redistricting. I’m proposing that we do not close or mess with any polling places for residents who were not changed in redistricting.”

Smith presented another concern regarding Seren: the lighting is insufficient for poll workers, and parking is more adequate at the American Legion Post.

Jackson said she had not heard these complaints from constituents — and the election commission’s role is to make recommendations, and the decisions lie with the supervisors.

“You’ve said that before, but you know the supervisor has a choice,” Jackson said. “But I’ve spoken to many residents. There are no complaints about the lighting. I do, as I mentioned, you gave (the owner) a hard time unduly when I selected that place, and there’s nothing coming up that supports what you’re saying. I have no residents that have said that.

“You don’t want it, Ms. Smith. But I do, and the residents do,” she added.

Jackson also stated that the map presented on July 25 and the one presented Monday morning differed beyond what was discussed during the July 25 working session.

Following discussion between Smith and Jackson, the supervisor made a move to approve polling places including Seren event venue. The motion died on the floor due to a lack of second.

Once the motion died, Jackson again voiced her discontent, stating that Smith’s actions were “extremely disappointing.”

Smith responded that it was “extremely disappointing for (Jackson), too, because (she doesn’t) understand the map.”

Jackson then stated she would make a public statement regarding the issue at a later time.

“What I’m going to do is publish something publicly, to show exactly what y’all did today,” Jackson said. “You don’t tell me I don’t understand if everybody sitting up here. … It’s actually illegal that you took a vote and then circulated a different map than what was discussed.”

Jackson then voiced her discontent with District 2 Supervisor William Banks. Banks, the longest-serving member of the board, remained silent for much of the discussion Monday morning.

“And you should be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Banks. I have supported your district and your commissioner because they wanted to move the Kings voting precinct,” Jackson said. “So I support you, but you don’t support District 3 and it’s a crying shame. You should be ashamed of yourself. You support what goes for your pockets and what’s good for you and your own interests.”

Barfield then made a call for order and the polling place discussion was tabled for the Aug. 8 working session of the Board of Supervisors.