Last month, Councilors held a work session on one of the items on tonight’s agenda. A committee has worked on new boundaries for the city’s voting precincts and Council will hold first of two readings on enacting them.
“After the 2020 election, the City of Charlottesville was kind of tagged by the state Board of Elections because one of our precincts had 4,500 active voters in the precinct,” said Ann Hemenway, vice chair of the Charlottesville Electoral Board. “It didn’t require us to make a big change but it did alert that that particular precinct, Johnson precinct, was getting larger and larger.”
Hemenway said this also presented an opportunity to address an issue at Tonsler Community Center.
“It’s just too small and that polling place, that precinct was also getting larger in size because of the development in the southern part of the city,” Hemenway said.
Hemenway also said Alumni Hall is privately held and there has been concern it might not be available when the city needs it. So Hemenway and Charlottesville Registrar Taylor Yowell took a look at other public schools to see if they could join the others that have been used for decades.
“The City Schools are now by state closed on the November elections,” Hemenway said.
The proposed changes would eliminate Tonsler Recreation and Alumni Hall in favor of Johnson Elementary School and Charlottesville High School. That will mean a redistribution of voters to new places to make it all work.
An initial round of changes was made in response to come community feedback, mostly around people being able to walk to the polls.
“One of the party reps was concerned that we had moved Friendship Court back into Key [Recreation Center] which is walkable for them and he felt it was more important that they go back to Clark [Elementary School] which is their original voting place because that’s where those kids go to school and the families in that area… just expected to be at Clark so we moved that back.”
Hemenway also said there was concern that some who now walk to Tonsler might not be able to walk to Buford further down on Cherry Avenue.
But there’s a public process that has to happen for those changes to be made. Deputy City Attorney Katrina Callsen said tonight’s appearance before Council is the first step.
“That’s going to kick off a public comment period that’s going to last for about 30 days,” Callsen said. “During that period there’s going to be at least one public hearing during that public comment period. After the public comment period, then we’re going to meet again and you guys are going to approve the ordinance changes and they won’t go into effect until a waiting period has happened. The waiting period is to allow anybody that might have a claim for voter suppression or an issue to bring a claim so that allows for that to come to your guys’ attention should it be out there.”
The earliest it could go into effect is early April. The next election is the primary on June 20. As of December 17, Callsen had filed paperwork to be a candidate in one of those races in Charlottesville as she is one of several candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for House District 54. The others are Fifeville resident Dashad Cooper and former Charlottesville Mayor David Brown.
If the changes make it through the public process, there will be an education campaign to let affected voters know. About forty percent will be affected according to Charlottesville Registrar Taylor Yowell.
“Anyone that does move precincts, they will get a new voter notice in the mail,” Yowell said. “So, telling them where they need to go on Election Day. It is going to be posted on our website. It does have to be posted in a newspaper.”
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he expected there to be a lot of discussion. He said he wanted to have as much of an education way before the public hearing. Hence the December 17 work session.
“It looks like roughly 40 percent of our voters will be voting someplace different from where they voted last November,” Snook said. “And I can tell you that every time we’ve even had tweaks to the boundary lines before, there has been great consternation.”
On January 17, 2023, there is no mention of the reprecincting on the registrar’s website, nor on the main news page on charlottesville.gov. You can find it in the agenda for tonight’s Council meeting or right here in this newsletter.
Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the January 17, 2023 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.