Precinct shifts cause confusion in the greater Chattanooga area

Precinct shifts cause confusion in the greater Chattanooga area

November 4th, 2012 by Kate Belz in Local Regional News



* Eastside 1 & 2: Tennessee Temple High School gym

* Northwoods 1-5: Calvary Baptist Church Activities Building

* Signal Mountain 1 & 2: Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church

* Summit 1-4: Silverdale Cumberland Presbyterian Church

* Birchwood: Meadowview Baptist Church

* Meadowview: Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Hall 4

Closed Precinct // Old polling place // New polling place

* Cedar Hill // Cedar Hill Community Center // East Lake Recreation Center gym

* Clifton Hills 1 & 2 // Tennessee Baptist Church // Tennessee Temple High School gym

* Harrison 3 & 4 // Cornerstone Baptist Church // Harrison Ruritan Club or Bayside Baptist Church

* Highland Park // Highland Park Neighborhood Center // Ridgedale Church of Christ or Tennessee Temple High School gym

* Howard // Howard gym lobby // Merged with Alton Park at Bethlehem Center

* Piney Woods // Wheeler Homes Office-Gym // Alton Park at Bethlehem Center

* Sunnyside Friendship Community Church // Missionary Ridge Neighborhood Association old fire hall or Eastdale Recreation Center.

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission


For questions about where your polling place is located, check your voter registration card or call the Hamilton County Election Commission at 423-493-5100.

Election Day for Jerry Woods once meant a trip, leaning on his walker, from Whiteside's Faith Manor, through a parking lot and across the street to the downtown Chattanooga polling place to cast his ballot.

This year Woods filled out an absentee ballot. He hasn't moved, and his regular polling place at the Chattanooga Urban League on M.L. King Boulevard had not changed.

But because newly drawn political district lines cut right down the street, Woods and the other 107 people living at Whiteside's Faith Manor on 10th Street now must travel two miles to vote. Many residents have disabilities; most do not have cars.

"It just doesn't seem right," he said. "I feel like we should have been taken into account over here."

The residents at Whiteside's are among more than 202,400 Hamilton County voters who got new voter ID cards after redistricting changed which races they vote in, where they vote or both. There are about 222,000 registered voters in the county.

The redrawing of political boundary lines every 10 years means some communities fall under new government representation and must change polling places.

In Woods' case, the district boundary changes moved the Urban League building from Hamilton County Commission District 4 to District 5. Elsewhere, population shifts meant polling places were consolidated or eliminated to reflect population shifts.

Growth in District 9 in northeast Hamilton County meant the district's boundaries shrank, but it gained six precincts.

"I thought we were going to lose some of our 11 precincts, but we ended up with 17 in my district," said County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who represents District 9. "Yes, we're the fastest-growing district -- but that's ridiculous."

He said the rearrangements have caused plenty of voter confusion. Voters in the newly shrunken Meadowview precinct, who once voted at a nearby Baptist church, now vote at a fire hall on Highway 58, while Birchwood voters cast ballots in the church Meadowview once used.

"It's such a big mix-up, and it's so confusing to people," said Joanne Knox, whose husband, Willis Knox, is the polling officer for Meadowview. "Everyone is upset who comes to the polls, and all the government bodies point fingers at each other and say, 'It's this or that one's fault.'"

Officials at the Hamilton County Election Commission say they must set up polling places in the jigsaw puzzle of new districts drawn by local political leaders.

"We had to make them as centralized as possible, but it is a struggle, and you are always going to end up with some people upset," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of elections.

Hamilton County had 127 districts before and after redistricting, but the number of polling places dropped from 97 to 83.

After an influx of complaints from Birchwood-area voters following primary elections this year, several polling places were shifted. Still, she said, "some of those who are over 60 have just decided to vote by absentee. It was too much trouble otherwise."

Paul Smith, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he believes the lines near Whiteside's were deliberately drawn to hamper voters.

"They're predominantly Democratic voters, predominantly African-American voters," he said. "When it's a matter of one street, it seems pretty glaring someone was trying to slow down the vote."

Assistant elections administrator Scott Allen contends that the redistricting process itself involves gerrymandering by the party in power, but the inconvenience of polling place changes is an unfortunate casualty of the system -- not an attempt at voter suppression.

"I'm not sure the local and state leaders even look at polling places when they draw those lines. They just look at the areas they want," he said.

Voters' new registration cards were mailed in July, and Mullis-Morgan said there weren't too many problems in elections in the August state primary and county general elections. But election officials say the shifted lines are a "big concern" for Tuesday.

"We see people turn out for presidential elections who never vote any other time," said Allen.

Tommie Patillo, president of Whiteside's resident association, decided not to wait to see how things would turn out on Election Day. With the help of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, Patillo arranged bus transportation for about 35 handicapped residents to the election commission last week so they could vote early.

"We weren't going to let this keep us from getting out there and making sure we get to exercise our right," said Patillo, a 22-year resident at Whiteside's.

"I'm still worried about it, though. There's still folks who don't know where they're supposed to go."