Two candidates for Morrisville Town Council are questioning a Wake County Board of Elections decision to relocate a polling place to a neighborhood that’s home to their opponents.
The polling place for precinct 05-07, which covers parts of Morrisville and Cary in northwest Wake County, was moved in late July from Good Hope Baptist Church in Cary to the clubhouse in Morrisville’s Breckenridge neighborhood.
Candidates Brian Foxx and Pete Martin said they’re upset about the selection of the Breckenridge clubhouse.
Foxx is running for the District 1 seat against incumbent town council member Michael Schlink, who lives in Breckenridge.
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Martin is running for an at-large seat against Satish Garimella, the president of the Breckenridge homeowners association. Garimella said he didn’t play any role in the county’s decision.
Kris Gardner, the at-large incumbent, was appointed to that seat last year and chose not to run this year.
“I found it strange that they chose Breckenridge, knowing there are two persons living in Breckenridge who are running, including the president of the neighborhood,” Martin said. “When you start doing that kind of thing, it’s unfair to the other candidates. It’s good for the people who live there.”
Gary Sims, the nonpartisan Wake County elections director, said politics played no part in the decision.
He said representatives from Good Hope Baptist Church told the county after last year’s elections that it no longer would host voting booths.
The county began searching for a new site immediately, Sims said, months before Garimella or Schlink made any announcements about running or filed official paperwork.
Sims said neighborhood clubhouses can be good polling places because they often have plenty of parking and are handicapped-accessible. Sims also said Breckenridge is in the middle of precinct 05-07. Not only was it the biggest and best location, he said, the worse options were on the edges of the precinct.
But because churches, schools, parks and government buildings are also common polling locations, he said, it could put officials on somewhat of a slippery slope if they began screening every location for possible links to candidates in every election.
“We’re talking about a facility we’ll need to be using for next year’s elections, and all elections after that,” Sims said. “Presidential elections, everything.”
Garimella said he wasn’t involved in any discussions or votes regarding the new polling place, after the Wake County Board of Elections approached Breckenridge and the clubhouse manager.
“Obviously the property manager came to me, and I said I want to disassociate myself from this discussion and let the rest of the board vote for it,” Garimella said. “I’m not the right person to make this call.”
He said after recusing himself, the HOA board voted 4-0 to allow the polling site. Breckenridge is a large neighborhood with many registered voters, Garimella said, and he said he thinks that’s the only reason why the board of elections chose it.
Martin said he attended the board of elections meeting when the change was made and raised questions, which he said weren’t adequately answered then or in the weeks since.
“They said there was no conflict, but it’s obvious,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see.”
There is precedent for moving polling places to neighborhood clubs. In 2011, three Wake County polling places were moved out of churches or public buildings and into clubhouses, according to the board of elections.
In the four years since then, only one other similar move has occurred out of about 40 changes. A Raleigh polling place was moved to a retirement community in 2014.
In that same span of time, one polling place was removed from a neighborhood. In 2012, one was moved from a Holly Springs clubhouse to a government-owned shooting range in Apex.
The Breckenridge polling place will be used this fall for both the Oct. 6 Cary elections and the Nov. 3 Morrisville elections. Garimella said the neighborhood leaders voted to allow it as a polling place through at least 2017.
As with all polling places, no campaigning will be allowed within 50 feet of the building.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
New poll site
Voters in Precinct 05-07 no longer will vote at Good Hope Baptist Church. The new site is Breckinridge clubhouse, 101 Redwood Park Drive, Morrisville. Registered voters affected by the change will receive a notice in the mail. For voting information, contact the Board of Elections at 919-856-6240 or go to wakegov.com/elections.