Meridian Star

Local News

March 15, 2013

Work under way to update city voter rolls

MERIDIAN —     Word last Friday from the U.S. Department of Justice that they will not object to the city's new ward lines put work in motion to update the city's voter rolls.

    The city holds the elections, but the county has taken responsibility for keeping the city's voter rolls updated, according to Donna Jill Johnson, Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk.

     With changes in ward lines, some voters will be in different wards, and many more voters will be affected by changes in voting locations. Since the last city election in 2009, Johnson said area schools have stopped allowing voting precincts on school grounds. DOJ has also not voiced an objection to the precinct changes proposed by the city.

    The DOJ letter arrived on Friday, which coincidentally was the last day to qualify as a candidate in the city of Meridian elections. That put everything on a tight deadline, with party primaries set for May 7; a likely runoff election on May 21; and the general election on June 4.

    "Election commissioners started meeting Monday with their maps, house addresses, ranges, all of that," Johnson said. "Everybody's been on pins and needles because of the time line."

    Candidates often purchase a copy of their ward's voter rolls to help them know where to campaign. Johnson said candidates are anxiously awaiting the new voter rolls.

    Johnson said steps will be taken to avoid voter confusion.

    "We will move those voters to their correct ward. Every single city voter will get new voter registration cards. We'll include a letter in there emphasizing to them where they need to vote for this municipal election," she said.

    Voters will get their new cards before the first primary election. As always, Johnson urged voters to go to the Circuit Clerk's office in the courthouse and let them know if they have moved.

    "Every time you move we need to know it," Johnson said.

    Even a move a couple blocks down the street can sometimes put a person in a different ward, she said.

    Jeff Tate, chairman of the Lauderdale County Election Commission, said commissioners have been reviewing data individually this week, and will meet on Saturday as a group to go over their work.

    "This is a focused process," Tate said. "You don't want any distractions. We will be looking at every single house range and every single street range that has been affected by redistricting."

    Redistricting of ward lines is necessary after a new census is taken every 10 years. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, once a new ward line plan is developed, DOJ must approve it before it goes into affect. That includes changes in voting locations.

    Tate said the census reflects the population in general — how many people live in an area. In working on redistricting, election commissioners focus on registered voters.

    Many people will be in the same ward but will be in a completely different precinct.

    "That's a lot of voters," Tate said. "That's the main thing is to make sure the voters know where to go to vote."

    Tate said the new voter registration cards will show voters where their county precinct is and where their city precinct is.

    "The consultant that the city hired did an excellent job of trying to mirror our county precincts lines. Before, there were city precinct lines running all over the place and county precinct lines running all over the place. Now there is more of a mirrored look," Tate said. "Before, over half of our city voters voted in one precinct for county elections and a different precinct in city elections. Now, over 75 percent of voters will be in the same location for county and city elections."

    After the Election Commission is finished making the changes, it will send the information to the city's Department of Finance and Records for review. When approved, election commissioners will enter the new information into its election database and mail out the new voter cards.

    Even though there are no ward lines in Marion, Tate said Marion voters will also get new voter registration cards showing them where to go to vote.

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