Wake County Could Face Redistricting “Nightmare”

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Wake County might face further issues on Election Day if the General Assembly’s draft redistricting plan goes through.

The General Assembly redistricts every 10 years based on the Census. They are scheduled to further discuss the plan Thursday.

Read More: Raleigh Redrawn in State Redistricting

Elections Deputy Director Gary Sims said this week the proposal would increase costs and require more staff.

“It’s just something our board needs to be very aware of because this does pose potentially new changes that we just don’t have a precedent for,” Sims said.

Sims said the board “needs to be prepared” to ask for more money from the Wake County Commission to cover these costs should the plan go through.

Earlier this year, Commissioners debated with the Board of Elections about its budget request. In the end, commissioners granted Election officials less than requested.

According to Sims’ calculations based on the General Assembly’s information, the proposed redistricting plan for Wake County would create 40 split voter tabulation districts for the Senate race, 48 split districts for the House and nine for the congressional.

Split tabulations districts means that voters at the same precinct would use different ballots depending on where they live in the precinct.

The draft plan would mean many more ballot styles for elections. Director of Elections Cherie Poucher could not predict the exact number of ballot styles that would be used, but said “it would be more than they ever had before.”

Poucher said this would cause confusion for voters, especially if a voter’s neighbor is using a different ballot style than he or she uses.

Precinct officials would require extra training on the different ballot styles, and the process of updating the geocode would be “time consuming” because they would have to go “address by address, block by block” to determine the ballot styles for each voter, Poucher said.

“The number of ballot styles alone in a precinct on Election Day could be a nightmare for precinct officials,” she said.

Poucher said it would be hard for political officials to determine whether a precinct would vote one way or the other because voter tabulation districts can be broken up into various jurisdictions, making it hard to keep a historical record.

Sims said that, with the proposed plan, a precinct “could have as many ballot styles as a high-volume voting site.”

More ballots means higher costs for machine programming and ballot printing, but Sims could not estimate those costs.

If there are more than 40 different ballot styles, they would need two different machines per early voting site, since each machine can only hold up to 40 styles, he said.

There would also be administrative impacts, including an increase in staffing costs, which were cut in this year’s budget. Sims said political parties and candidates could need more workers to cover more territories, which could lead to fewer pollworkers.

“We don’t have the luxury of doing an okay job; it has to be perfect, so it just takes people to do that,” Sims said. “We’ll overcome any obstacle, but understand that this really is … we need a bigger boat.”

This isn’t just a problem Wake County will face, but “many, many, many counties” as well, he said.

When asked by Elections Board Secretary Donald Mial if they would have to go to the County Commissioners to ask for more funding to implement the plan, Sims said the board “needs to prepare to do that.”

Sims expects delays to the plan’s implementation due to court challenges from political and special interest groups.

The board is planning to send a statement to the Wake County delegation, asking them to look over Wake County’s district lines, its impacts on voters and to make sure those lines fit into voter tabulation districts. The goal is to make sure all voters in a district get the same ballot style.

State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said he couldn’t comment on Wake County’s situation since it’s not part of the state board’s jurisdiction.

“When it becomes law, it’s our job to make sure voters are in the correct voting district,” Bartlett said.

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