County Slims Down From 135 To 88 Precincts, But Will Have More Polling Places; Election Office Prepares For 2 New Districts

  • Thursday, December 9, 2021

The election office used the current redistricting as an opportunity to slim down from 135 to 88 precincts, Election Administrator Scott Allen said.

However, he said the office will keep all the current polling places, plus add some more.

Some of the prior precincts had few voters, but it was necessary to man the polling site.

Mr. Allen said a few precincts will be added after the state completes its redistricting in cases where new senatorial boundaries result in precinct splits. The state is expected to complete its process in late January or early February.

He also said the election office has been preparing for Dec. 20 at 8 a.m. when candidates for next year's wide range of county elections can first pick up papers. The deadline for qualifying is Feb. 17.

The County Commission opted to move from nine districts to 11, and there will be a similar increase in seats on the school board. Officials said special cards will be sent to all affected voters and there will be extensive publicity about the changes.

The election office recently added two new early voting locations. One will be in Soddy Daisy and the Soddy Daisy Community Center on Depot Street. Another will be at the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department training center off Snow Hill Road.

Chairman Mike Walden said those were selected based on an aim to have early voting for everyone with a driving time of no more than 15 minutes. Those are two of the high growth areas of the county.

The office for many years has an early voting at the election office just off Amnicola Highway, in Hixson and in Brainerd. Later, an early voting site was added in Collegedale.

Mr. Walden said there are plans to add another early voting location for residents in the south part of the county, including Lookout Valley, Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo and Alton Park.

Members of the Hamilton County Voters Coalition said they want that site to be at the Southside Recreation Center rather than the John A. Patten Center in Lookout Valley. They said Lookout Valley is a "geographically isolated" part of the county and difficult to reach for citizens who depend on public transit.

The commission is to make a decision on that issue at the next meeting on Jan. 12 at 9 a.m.

Early voting starts April 13.

The Hamilton County Voters Coalition sent this letter to members of the election panel:

As an introduction, The Hamilton County Voters Coalition is a nonpartisan group of voting rights advocates and local organizations who are interested in promoting civic engagement through voter education, voter registration, and voter participation.

It has been brought to our attention that the Hamilton County Election Commission will be considering for a vote on December 9, 2021, the following two options for the new District 11 polling site: 1.) John A. Patten Recreation Center in Lookout Valley or 2.) Southside Recreation Center located in Alton Park.

Members of the Hamilton County Voters Coalition have been involved in the Hamilton County redistricting process from the beginning. In looking at the two options being proposed for the polling site for the new District 11 voters, a concern was raised regarding the feasibility and the accessibility of the polling site located at John A. Patten Recreation Center in Lookout Valley for the following reasons:

1.) The Southside Recreation Center is generally central to all District 11 communities, while Lookout Valley is geographically isolated from the rest of the county. The Southside Recreation Center can serve the voters in district four, district five, and district eight. In contrast, the John A Patten Recreation Center will primarily serve the voters of only district 11 in Lookout Valley is a geographically restricted area. St. Elmo, Lookout Mountain, and Alton park areas contain roughly 4,000 more active voters than the Lookout Valley area.

Per the interim Elections Administrators remarks at the November 23 County Commission meeting, the community breakdown is as follows: ? Lookout Valley - 6,000-7,000 active voters ? St. Elmo & Lookout Mountain - 8,000-9,000 active voters ? Alton Park - 2,000 active voters

By putting the new early voting location at the Southside Recreation Center, this polling location will better serve the combined population of St. Elmo, Lookout Mountain, and Alton Park (11,00 active voters) rather than only the 7,000 active voters of the Lookout Valley neighborhood. 2.) Public transportation routes do not serve the Lookout Valley area, making this an early voting polling location inaccessible for Hamilton County voters who rely on public transportation. If a voter from Alton Park wishes to vote early at the closest early voting site on Amnicola Highway, it could be up to an hour bus ride or a two-hour walk. The Southside Recreation Center is also within walking distance of Alton Park and St. Elmo communities.

Based on the above reasons, The Hamilton County Voters Coalition would like to advocate for the selection of the Southside Recreation Center as the new polling location for District 11. In the interest of transparency, public participation, and clarity, will the Hamilton County Election Commission allow public comments at the December 9, 2021, Meeting before the votes on the designated new sites for early and Election Day voting?

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