Changes in Chatham's voting precincts, polling locations up for consideration

Posted 6/9/21

Chatham’s Board of Elections has decided to make changes in a number of the county’s voting precincts — splitting one and combining two others — and is mulling additional precinct changes …

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Changes in Chatham's voting precincts, polling locations up for consideration

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Posted

Chatham’s Board of Elections has decided to make changes in a number of the county’s voting precincts — splitting one and combining two others — and is mulling additional precinct changes along with moving some existing polling places.

Resolutions for the changes — discussed by the board last month — will be presented at a June 22 meeting.

“We received our census and nothing changed with our precincts. They are exactly the same as they were,” Board of Elections Director Pandora Paschal told the News + Record regarding the recently-released 2020 census data. “But of course, the board has been looking at combining and splitting some precincts, we (discussed) that in our last meeting, and actually moving some polling places within the precinct. So that’s what we are doing right now and that has nothing to really do with the census.”

Those changes include:

Splitting the Oakland Precinct

The board unanimously voted to split the Oakland precinct — which currently has 1,002 registered voters — along U.S. Hwy. 15-501, with the eastern half of Oakland going to Three Rivers precinct — which has 1,196 voters. The eastern half of the Oakland precinct will become the Moncure precinct, with the polling place at Moncure Elementary School. The western half of the Oakland precinct will go to the Goldston precinct to vote at the Goldston Town Hall, according to the board’s drafted minutes for its May 18 meeting.

Before this change, residents in the Oakland Precinct voted at the Pittsboro #3 Fire Station on Walter Bright Road. The board worked to secure other polling locations besides fire stations, reasoning that parking is unsatisfactory and poll workers can’t set up the night before because of fire trucks being unable to be moved out of the voting area in advance.

“We were looking at our polling places that we use for voting, and we use some fire stations, and they were not feasible for us to continue to use,” Paschal said, “so we’re moving some of the polling places into other buildings.”

Merging Bennett with Harpers Crossroads

The board also voted to merge the Bennett precinct, which has 779 registered voters, with Harpers Crossroads, which has 759. That newly merged precinct will be the “Crossroads precinct,” and the polling place is set to be at the Harpers Crossroads Community Center in Bear Creek. Bennett residents have been voting at the Bennett Fire Station, according to the meeting minutes. The board agreed merging the two locations would lead to increased “safety, security and efficiency in the elections process.”

Though the board discussed splitting Manns Chapel Precinct, which has 8,754 registered voters, and merging Hadley Precinct with Albright Precinct, it ultimately decided to wait for the June meeting to discuss further and make any changes.

Members discussed splitting Manns Chapel precinct at Andrew Store Road, with the Manns Chapel side using Perry Harrison Elementary School as its polling place and the proposed Briar Chapel precinct using Chatham Grover Elementary School.

However, the board’s discussion on the Hadley and Albright precincts complicated this move. Together, the two precincts have 3,351 registered voters, but the precincts cover a very large geographical area. Because of concerns about increased driving time to reach polling sites, board chairperson Laura Heise suggested waiting to make a decision until the board had voter population numbers for the northern tiers of precincts.

Phillip Gilfus, chairperson of the Albright Precinct Democrats, told the News + Record in an email that the Albright Democratic Precinct supports merging with the Hadley precinct.

“We think it’ll be more accessible for all voters, with better parking and the covered porch. The space also allows for us to better communicate with voters on Election Days,” he said. “We also realize that we are a smaller population precinct, and it makes sense to merge into a larger precinct to save the Board money and personnel, with more efficient use of poll workers.”

Gilfus said his only personal hesitation was finding out new census numbers for the precincts; census data is expected to be recived by late summer.

The board agreed to table making any changes until it has precinct population numbers at it June 22 meeting.

“They’re still waiting on numbers from the state for us to get numbers to tell them how many people that would put in each one of those precincts,” Paschal said.

The proposed changes must be approved by the executive director of elections for the North Carolina State Board of Elections based on resolutions adopted by the county’s board of elections later this month, Paschal told the News + Record.

Changing polling locations

Paschal said the board will also adopt a resolution to change some polling places at its June meeting. The following proposed changes were unanimously approved with the board’s stated goal of increasing “safety, security, accessibility, parking and space efficiency” for voters.

• From Bonlee fire Station to the Bonlee Elementary School Gym

• From CCCC Pittsboro Campus to the Chatham County Agricultural Center

• From the Earl B. Fitts Community Center to the National Guard Armory in Siler City

• From Carolina Meadows to North Chatham Elementary School

The board is required to advertise these changes in the newspaper 45 days prior to the primary Election, Paschal said, and 30 days prior to individual voters. She said the board will likely use these changed precincts in the March 2022 primary; if Siler City ends up having its regularly scheduled municipal election (see this edition’s story on redistricting for more information), the precinct change for East Siler City will be in effect for the November 2021 election, dependent on state board approval.

“But I haven’t put this out there yet, because I haven’t notified the voters. We have to have this in place by the primary, so I haven’t notified the voters that that’s going to be their new precinct yet,” she said. “... Right now it’s still new to us, we’re still in that planning process”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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