Coloring inside the lines: Redistricting complicates election preparations

Last year’s statewide redistricting pulled voting districts into unfamiliar shapes. As a result, Trena Parker and her staff at Buncombe County Election Services have faced a host of complications in preparing for the May 8 primary, notably the need for 37 separate ballot styles.

Redistricting added a portion of the 10th Congressional District 10 to Buncombe County — which, in turn, affected the boundaries of the 11th District. Meanwhile, the lines for Statehouse and N.C. Senate districts were also rearranged. That left Parker’s office with the tedious but important job of ensuring that every county residence has been correctly assigned to the various new districts.

“There’s state software that every county in North Carolina must use,” Parker explains. “They provide us with the maps, and we go through street by street, especially those streets that are near the line. It’s a long, meticulous process.”

But for voters, she believes, the most difficult changes will be those in the Board of Commissioners races.

Where’s Cousin Joanne?

People “have been used to voting for all of the commissioners for many, many years,” Parker explains. “They may even be good friends with some of them, or cousins, and all of a sudden they’re going to realize that Cousin Joanne’s name is not on [their ballot] anymore. I think that is going to bring the most frustration for voters … that they can only vote for individuals that live within their newly created district.”

In a move aimed exclusively at Buncombe County, state legislators expanded the board from five members to seven and created three districts, each of which will elect two commissioners. The board chair will still be elected countywide.

37 ways to vote

Having three separate commissioner races instead of one, and two congressional districts instead of one, helps account for the 37 ballot styles required. Another complication is the proposed amendment to the state constitution, which basically doubles the number of ballot styles needed.

That’s because 17-year-olds who’ll turn 18 before the general election are allowed to vote in the primary, so they can help decide which candidates will appear on the November ballot. But the May 8 vote on the constitutional amendment is final — the issue won’t reappear in November — so 17-year-olds are not allowed to vote on it.

Finally, because the primary is configured along party lines, all those considerations must be factored into four different ballot categories: Democratic, Libertarian, Republican and nonpartisan. (Unaffiliated voters may choose any party ballot or the nonpartisan ballot, which contains only the constitutional amendment question.)

Parker’s office recently sent out cards to anyone whose voting location has been changed to improve service. “We always do those before the primary,” she explains, “so there is ample opportunity for voters to be accustomed to the change … before the general election.”

Before early voting starts on April 19, a countywide mailing will go out that shows the new districts for Congress, the Statehouse and Senate and the Board of Commissioners, to help voters determine which races will appear on their ballot. That mailing will cost about $25,000, says Parker — the most significant outlay triggered by the redistricting.

Voters can also call the Board of Elections or visit the website to identify their current districts and view sample ballots (see “Ready, Set, VOTE”). To view maps of the new districts online, go to www.buncombecounty.org/vote and click on “Finding Your County Commission District.”

Nelda Holder can be reached at nfholder@gmail.com.

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