Wake voters should check districts

No notification sent to those affected by changes in school district lines.

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comOctober 10, 2011 

  • Voters in Wake County school board districts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 will choose board members Tuesday. If necessary, runoffs will occur Nov. 8.

    To find out where you vote and what's on your ballot, call the Wake County Board of Elections at 919-856-6240 or visit bit.ly/L7DFZ.

Earlier this year, officials realigned the voting boundaries that govern the Wake County school board - a standard adjustment that happens every decade to account for census-tabulated population growth.

In years past, the county has gone out if its way to let voters know about their new districts.

But it didn't happen this year, due in part to a tight county budget and delays in the approval of new voting districts at higher levels of government.

The Wake County Board of Elections requested an extra $120,000 from county commissioners to send registered voters cards showing their new districts - before Tuesday's elections. But the request was denied.

So on Tuesday, when five school board seats are up for election, it'll be up to thousands of voters to figure out whether they're among those who have new districts.

"My board tried to make it very clear that it was a disservice to the voters not to issue new cards," elections director Cherie Poucher, who encouraged voters to call the elections office or go online to verify district status.

County Manager David Cooke said commissioners didn't intend to leave voters short of information.

Instead, there was confusion this year over redistricting at different levels of government.

In Wake, the school board and county commission district lines were redrawn to conform to new census data gathered in 2010. District lines for the state legislature and U.S. Congress have been drawn up, but not yet signed off on by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Wake County Board of Elections typically waits until after the statewide districts are approved to send voters new district information.

When the other redistricting approvals were held up, Wake elections officials wanted to send a round of communications about local changes before Tuesday's voting, which also involves municipal races and votes on two bond proposals.

"We had requested funding to mail voter cards after redistricting," Poucher said.

Some voters confused

The lack of the mailers has stoked a fair amount of confusion for voters such as Charles Harriman of North Raleigh.

"My wife is handicapped, and she needs a walker, so we voted in Wake Forest in early voting last election," Harriman said. "At that time, we didn't vote for school board. From that point on we wondered if we were still in District 3."

Wake County's nine school districts appear on the ballot on a staggered basis: Voters in four of them pick candidates one year, and residents in the other five districts vote two years later.

Because of quirks in the drawing of new lines, some voters whose districts weren't scheduled to vote last time will miss out again. Similarly, some people who got to vote in 2009 have been moved to areas where they'll get to vote again.

Melvin Montford, state executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, oversees nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts and has heard from canvassers that many would-be voters aren't sure whether their voting options have changed.

"I know we've phone-banked thousands of people and we are getting a lot people that are asking us what district they are in and what precinct they are in," Montford said. "We've had people say to us, 'That's not what it says on our voters' cards.' "

Turnout is hard to predict in years with no statewide or national races, but officials said high interest in the board of education races could boost voter participation in Wake County. In 2009, four new school board members swept into office in an election with an 11 percent countywide turnout.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service