Request to add early voting sites denied

Request to add early voting sites denied

January 10th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

A line of voters stretches around the corner of the building at the Hamilton County Election Commission during early voting in this file photo.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

EARLY VOTING

Early voting for the March 5 Chattanooga municipal election will be Feb. 13-28.

Early voting sites are Northgate Mall, the Brainerd Recreation Center and the Hamilton County Election Commission office.

Elder Mountain residents to vote again on deannexation

The election commissions for Hamilton and Marion counties convened Wednesday morning to find a strategy for conducting a redo of Elder Mountain's deannexation election.

Properties along the brow of Elder Mountain straddle the county line, meaning some residents technically have lots in both counties. Still, the neighborhood receives a few Chattanooga city services.

While 18 people on the mountain are registered to vote in Hamilton County, 36 people are registered to vote in Marion County, said Hamilton County Election Commission Attorney Chris Clem.

The two commissions decided that because of the complications and cost of early voting and absentee ballots, it would be better for Marion County voters to cast their ballots in Chattanooga's March 5 elections.

In an election last August, 21 residents voted for deannexation, while 20 voted to remain in Chattanooga. But several months later, Hamilton County Chancery Court Chancellor Frank Brown declared the election void -- citing election irregularities. He called for a new election in March and ordered election officials to draft a list of eligible voters and provide proper notification of the vote.

Susan Rich, who filed the lawsuit to throw out the August election, attended the joint commission meeting with her attorney, John Konvalinka.

All of the Elder Mountain residents will be notified by mail with legal notices of the upcoming election and where they can vote.

After several weeks of confusion and miscommunication among Chattanooga City Council and county election officials, an attempt to increase the number of early voting sites in the county has died for lack of support.

During a meeting Wednesday, Hamilton County Election Commissioner James Anderson pushed support for the City Council's unanimous request to add two extra early voting sites -- one at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park and another in Lookout Valley.

The council backed off the issue, after Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said there would not be any extra sites because of Internet availability and the possibility of favoritism.

Anderson argued that Mullis-Morgan's exchange with the council prevented the council from bringing the issue directly to the five-member commission, which has the final say about voting sites.

Commission Chairman Mike Walden argued against adding the extra sites. He said the commission wants to avoid taking requests about voting sites from elected officials. Also, changing the layout of voting sites is a "slippery slope," he said.

"One thing we want to prevent is an incumbent asking for a polling place in their specific district, for their specific demographic or their specific area," Walden said.

Anderson scoffed at the idea, saying the request was originally brought forward by Russell Gilbert, who represents the Highway 58 area.

"It's a matter of geography," argued Anderson, who said that Lookout Valley had no transportation to the early voting sites and that Alton Park's black and Hispanic voters are underrepresented and have difficult access to early voting sites.

Commission member Jerry Summers motioned for the elections office to conduct a demographics study to deal with similar requests in the future, which the commission unanimously approved.