PARKERSBURG - Wood County officials were surprised to learn Monday a request to create a new voting precinct to address state delegate redistricting changes had been denied by the secretary of state's office.
In February county Clerk Jamie Six told commissioners the state's redistricting created a pocket of voters between the 8th and 10th Delegate districts. Part of Precinct 40A was moved from Delegate District 10 to Delegate District 8. The change left a pocket of about 52 voters. A strip along Ann's Drive was left in District 10, the rest was moved to District 8 during the state's redistricting move.
Six proposed to cause the least inconvenience to voters by creating a new precinct, designated 41U, with the U standing for unincorporated. The affected voters would, as proposed, vote at nearby Precinct 41, at Grand Pointe Conference Center. When there was a city election, those voters would vote via Ivontronics that did not have the city ballot/bus levy since they live in an unincorporated area.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County Clerk Jamie Six discussed options Monday with county commissioners after local officials were notified the secretary of state’s office rejected a proposal for a precinct change that would have brought the county into compliance with state delegate redistricting changes.
"Currently we do this on south side with Precinct 71 and 71U. There are not enough people to create a precinct between the two, so we created this subprecinct and we've been using it ever since I've been clerk," Six said.
County officials asked for a waiver on the number of voters since the newly proposed precinct did not meet the minimum 300 voters requirement. The waiver request was filed with the secretary of state's office on Feb. 2.
"The proposed change would also mean we didn't have to increase the number of pollworkers or get an additional polling place since it already exists," the clerk noted.
Six said his office assumed the request had been granted since it did not hear back and sent out notices to affected voters and proceeded with the ballots.
County commissioners were surprised Monday when they received a letter from Timothy Leach, assistant general counsel with the secretary of state's office, denying the request. No copy of the decision was sent to the clerk's office, Six learned of the decision after being informed of the letter by county commissioners Monday.
Leach noted the code refers to "urban areas," which must have 300 to 1,500 voters. Precincts designated "rural or less thickly settled" must have 200-700 registered voters. Because the county's letter referred to the 300 minimum voter count, Leach said he "concluded" Precinct 40A is located "within an urban area."
"Regretfully the code does not give the secretary of state authority to grant such an exemption in the case of a precinct within any urban area," Leach said, noting the secretary of state is given authority to grant such an exemption in the case of a "rural" area.
Six noted a code section that states: "each precinct in a rural or less thickly settled area shall contain 200-700 voters, unless upon a written finding by the county commission that establishment of or retention of a precinct with less than 200 voters would prevent undue hardship to the voters, the secretary of state determines that such precinct be exempt from the 200-voter minimum limit."
"I think we indicated this would create a hardship," the clerk noted.
After looking over the precinct map, Six said the nearest precinct with a similar ballot style would be Blennerhassett School in Parkersburg.
"The problem is the ballot styles, Blennerhassett School would be the closest one with the same ballot style. It's almost like a catch-22, they want us to keep the voter rolls clean and accurate, which we do, but then the numbers go down, so we are being penalized. It's like you are rewarded not to remove those who are no longer eligible to vote," Six noted.
The commissioners asked Six to contact the secretary of state's office to see what options were available.
Later Monday, deputy clerk Melody Ross said after talking with the secretary of state's office, the county was advised to rewrite the request letter, noting the area in question is more "rural" than "urban," then the secretary of state's office would have authority to rule. County officials said while there are businesses in the area in question, there are not many residences.
"We are contacting the commissioners to get the go ahead to send off the amended letter," Ross said.
County officials wanted to resolve the problem as soon as possible to make sure affected voters were notified and finalize ballot orders for the May election.