City Paper Widget

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ANC Commissioners, Activists Criticize Voting Precinct Simplification Plan

DC's Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) held a public hearing October 24 on its proposed Precinct Boundary Efficiency Plan, which would redraw and simplify the District's voting districts. Fewer than 15 people attended. 

Five members of the public testified before the committee. Three were Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) members. The other two were the chair of the Ward 3 DC Democratic State Committee and the executive director of government watchdog group DC Watch.

ANC Commissioners: Polling Station Complaints

Commissioner Mike Silverstein (ANC2B/Dupont Circle - district 06) said many of his constituents would have far longer walks to the polls under the new plan. As an example, he talked of his constituents who live at 2301 N Street NW. These constituents now vote at Francis Stevens school (2425 N Street). Under the new plan, they would have to walk to the Charles Summer School (1201 17th Street, at M Street). According to Google Maps, this would mean a walk of 8/10ths of a mile or less, which might take 15 minutes, crossing eight intersections, including intersections at New Hampshire and Connecticut Avenues.

Silverstein invoked the memory of the civil rights movement and compared moving the voting place to acts of voter suppression of that era.

DCBOEE Board Member Devarieste Curry told Silverstein it was inappropriate to compare the Precinct Boundary Efficiency Plan to Jim Crow-era attempts to deprive the vote to African-Americans.

"Mr. Silverstein, I find it troubling in making a comparison to civil rights," Curry said.

Curry noted the DCBOEE had previously been taken to task for long lines at the polling stations. which discourage voting. The new plan aimed to reduce this obstacle, and encourage voting.

"Nothing suppresses votes like long lines," Board Member Stephen Danzansky said later.

Silverstein also repeated objections first aired at the October 9 meeting of ANC2B - see October 16 SALM blog post. ANC2B voted to oppose the new plan at that meeting.

Two Commissioners from ANC6E/Shaw - Rachelle Nigro (district 04) and Marge Maceda (district 05) - also protested the location of polling places.

Nigro, who is also ANC6E chair, took exception to two separate polling places.

Nigro asked the board to reconsider the decision to put a polling station in the United House of Prayer (1721 7th Street), located in her home district. Nigro noted that the United House of Prayer frequently puts up candidates for election to the ANC, including three in the last election. She said putting a polling place in this church would be like putting a polling place in the offices of a major political party.

"I represent 400 members of the United House of Prayer," Nigro said. However, other residents "have made it clear to me that they do not want to vote in a house of worship."

Nigro also objected to the choice of the J.O. Wilson Elementary School (600 K Street NE) as a polling place for district 06. Some residents will have to walk 13 blocks to the school.

Clifford D. Tatum, DCBOEE Executive Director, later said he did not know the school was 13 blocks from the district. The DCBOEE would consider changing the polling place, he said.

The text of Nigro's statement to the DCBOEE is available on her Facebook page.

Commissioner Maceda said the proposed new polling place in her district (Walker Jones Elementary - 1125 New Jersey Avenue NW) would be a serious inconvenience for some voters. Some would have to walk "at least" 13 blocks, she said.

Activists: Too fast, not enough community input

The first person to testify was Shelley Tomkin, Chair of the Ward 3 Democrats. She said her organization needed more time. She also said the new plan would disrupt Ward 3 Democrats, who are organized by precinct. It had the potential to break up political communities. She urged the DCBOEE to delay implementation until the 2016 elections

"The decision to rush through is wrong," she said. "The sensible way to approach the proposal is to give the community time to comment."

In response, Devarieste Curry wondered aloud whether it was appropriate for the board to consider the effects of the changes on a political party.

Other testimony was heard from Dorothy Brizill of DC Watch. She urged the board to extend the time for public comment and to make the 58-page report (.pdf here) on the plan easier to read, photocopy, and display on mobile devices. She also said the maps in the report were poorly designed and ANCs had not had sufficient time to comment. 

Brizill was extremely unhappy with the way the board presented the plan to the public, and felt that the board was not taking comments on the plan seriously. Brizill got into an argument with members of the board. While board members were speaking to her, she got up from the table where she was giving her testimony, collected her things, and walked out. 

"I didn't come here to be talked to" were her last words to the board as she rose to leave.

Board Chair comments

At the end of the meeting, DCBOEE Board Chair Deborah K. Nichols said, "We need to have something in place before the 2016 election. It would be good if we had a dry run in 2014."

Although this meeting is the last scheduled one, Nichols said: "We may have another public hearing."

"I don't want anyone to think this is a done deal. It's not a done deal," Nichols said earlier in the meeting.

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