Voting Precincts / May Elections Still on Agenda

by Valerie Garner

As requested by Roanoke City Council, Electoral Board member Melvin Williams gave a status update on reducing voting precincts from the current 32 to 19. His initial presentation was at a September 2011 briefing to council. Williams was then asked to form a task force comprised of constituencies that included the Roanoke Chapters of the SCLC and NAACP, and members of the Mayor’s Commission on Disabilities and neighborhood groups.

On January 3, 2012 Williams came back to council along with registrar Leverne Shepherd and fellow electoral board members Rev. Carl Tinsley and Gordon Hancock and with the help of city GIS map expert Kenny Harris, presented a reworked plan.

Since that time Williams has been waiting on council’s direction on how to proceed but City Council was under the impression that Williams was organizing public input from stakeholders.

“Quite frankly we have been waiting to hear from you through the City Manager’s office,” said Williams. Mayor Bowers interjected that there had been some kind of misunderstanding. Williams said his office is not equipped to schedule public hearings. “We’re certainly willing to participate and to assist, to discuss the ins and outs and the issues that may arise in consideration of the plan.”

Court Rosen told Williams that the electoral board should be the lead and not the City Manager’s office. Dave Trinkle was pleased with the January presentation and said, “With the city administration’s help – start rolling that [plan] out.”

Williams reminded council that the presentation has been on RVTV and online since January and stated again that the electoral board has no experience in setting up public hearings. City Manager Chris Morrill suggested “drop-in sessions” be held around the city and offered to work with Williams. The expectation is to complete all public input hearings in 90 days.

Besides the Roanoke Chapters of the NAACP and SCLC, Bowers suggested that both the city’s Republican and Democratic parties participate. The deadline for council adoption is December 31. Department of Justice approval does not have to be received by that date before it is effective for the 2013 elections.

Councilman Sherman Lea asked City Attorney Tim Spencer if he had found someone to assist in facilitating a discussion on moving city council elections from May to November. Spencer said that Dr. Harry Wilson –  Roanoke College Department of Public Affairs, would help facilitate a public discussion. Dr Wilson holds a Ph.D in Political Science from Rutgers University.