City officials ponder voting place changes
Former City Councilman Hashmel Turner said he would like to see Fredericksburg relocate one of the Ward 4 voting precincts to the Bragg Hill Family Life Center.
He’d like that change in place prior to the November congressional elections. If that can’t happen, he’d like to see it soon thereafter because of projected growth in that area of the city.
“We’re looking long-range,” said Turner, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Fredericksburg Branch of the NAACP and was elected its president last week.
Ward 4 is the only city ward with two polling places. Precinct 401 was moved from the original Walker–Grant School to New City Fellowship about nine years ago.
Precinct 402 is currently located at VFW Post 3103 on Princess Anne Street near the Falmouth Bridge.
Ward 4 stretches from the city boundary on Dixon Street, into downtown along the river’s edge, and then to the western end of Fall Hill Avenue at Celebrate Virginia South.
It is the city ward with the majority of minority voters.
Turner would like to see Precinct 402 moved to the Bragg Hill Family Life Center, which is located off Fall Hill Avenue, west of the Rappahannock Canal.
Turner was one of three city residents who attended an Electoral Board meeting last week to get residents’ comments on polling places, and to follow up on a request in March by Ward 4 council candidate Chuck Frye.
Frye, who was elected, had offered petitions from people living west of the Rappahannock Canal asking for a temporary polling place for Precinct 402 for the May 6 election.
Frye made the request because he was concerned about those voters being disadvantaged because of the Fall Hill Avenue detour.
However, state law does not allow for temporary polling places.
In February, the city instituted the Fall Hill Avenue detour while the bridge over the canal is being replaced. The detour is expected to be in place until late November. In the meantime, drivers follow a 5-mile route to get from one side of the canal to the other.
The Electoral Board will meet at noon on Wednesday to discuss possible changes to polling places. The City Council would have to approve any changes.
City Electoral Board Secretary Amanda McGrady said she doesn’t believe, based on the input she heard last Tuesday, that a change is needed.
However, the board decided it was time to provide the council with an update regardless of whether it recommends a change.
Electoral Board member Cathie Fisher Braman said she didn’t know whether a change was needed.
Donna H. Ferren, the third of the three Electoral Board members, said she wanted to review more statistics on voters and polling places before taking a position.
Among her questions is what would be the maximum distance someone in Ward 4 would travel if the polling place was moved to the Bragg Hill Family Life Center at 400 Bragg Hill Drive.
There is enough time to make the change before the November election if the board and council support it, Ferren said.
Last Tuesday, McGrady shared with the public a presentation showing statistics on voter turnout and the maximum distance voters in each precinct travel to reach their polling places.
When the detour is not in place, some voters in Wards 1 and 3 have the longest distance to travel, her data show. For example, Ward 1 voters living in Idlewild travel up to 4 miles to vote at Hugh Mercer Elementary.
The second longest distance is for Ward 3 voters living on College Avenue to reach Walker–Grant Middle School: 3.5 miles.
Generally, people living in Ward 4 have a maximum distance of 3 miles. That’s for people living on Riverside Manor Boulevard. During the detour, some are traveling 5 miles.
Despite the detour, voters in Precinct 402 had a larger turnout in this month’s city elections than in 2010.
That year, 105 of 924 registered voters in Precinct 402 cast a ballot compared to this month when 169 of 1,449 registered voters participated.
That’s an increase in voter turnout from 11 percent to 12 percent.
The largest turnout this year was 21 percent in Precinct 401. Citywide, the turnout was 10 percent this month compared to 7 percent four years ago.
By contrast, the turnout for the November 2012 presidential race was 75 percent citywide.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
DISTANCE TO CITY POLLING PLACES
Here’s a list by precinct of the maximum distance a Fredericksburg voter must travel to cast a ballot.
PRECINCT 101: Four miles from Idlewild to Hugh Mercer Elementary School.
PRECINCT 201: Two miles from Lafayette Boulevard to the Dorothy Hart Community Center.
PRECINCT 301: Three and a half miles from College Avenue to Walker–Grant Middle School.
PRECINCT 401: Two miles from George Coghill Street to New City Fellowship church.
PRECINCT 402: Three miles from Riverside Manor Boulevard to VFW Post 3103 without the detour. Five miles maximum during the bridge project.
—Fredericksburg Electoral Board