By Michael V. Hannigan
ATHENS – From the smallest voter box to the biggest Congressional district, lawyers and politicians and judges have been fiddling with and adjusting the boundaries of political subdivisions in Texas since the House Committee on Redistricting met on March 1, 2011. And despite the fact that May 29 primary elections are on the schedule, redistricting will continue to be a bone of contention for months to come.
Just consider Henderson County. Commissioners this week had to split off part of a Malakoff voter box in Precinct 1 and send it to Cross Roads. It wasn’t something they wanted to do, it was something they had to do because of the actions of federal judges and state-level politicians.
That’s not the only problem. Changes to voting boxes in Precinct 4 are being questioned by the County Democratic party and the county is still waiting for preclearance on those boxes from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
All of this is happening while the local Voter Registration Office is trying to prepare for multiple elections (municipal elections are scheduled for May 12) and, finally, trying to get out voter registration cards.
“We (have to) proceed with what the commissioners have ordered, unless DOJ disapproves the change,” said Elections Administrator Denise Hernandez.
Adjustments in Malakoff
On Tuesday, Commissioners’ Court approved moving a piece of Box 1MN (Malakoff) to 1CR (Cross Roads). The move came based on the preliminary maps approved by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio last month.
Like the map approved by the Texas Legislature, the judges’ map puts Henderson County into two State House districts: District 10 and District 4.
District 10 will include Malakoff, Trinidad, and the west side of the lake up to Seven Points. Caney City, Cross Roads and the rest of Henderson County remains in District 4.
The new line runs through the 1MN box area, requiring this week’s changes.
“This is a direct effect of splitting Henderson County,” said Pct. 1 Commissioner Joe Hall. “I am frustrated to no end. This is not a good scenario, but there is no perfect scenario.”
Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Geeslin said the court had considered creating a new voting box, but believed it would be difficult to do that – including finding a location and workers, etc. – in the short time available.
Geeslin also pointed out that the county was working with preliminary maps that could change in the future.
“It is still possible the boundary may change again,” he said.
Conflict in Pct. 4
Also appearing before commissioners on Tuesday was Henderson County Democratic Chairwoman Marsha Head, speaking about the changes to the voting boxes.
Redistricting cut the county’s number of boxes from 31 to 27.
Head told commissioners she was worried that changes in Pct. 4 would hurt minorities. She called combining the Fincastle and Poynor boxes “a definite violation of diluting minority voting.”
She said that in Fincastle, the African-American vote was 50 percent, while after combining with Poynor it would be less than 10 percent.
She was also concerned about the need for a bilingual elections worker in Box 4LA (the Anglican Church), but said she was working with Elections Administrator Denise Hernandez on that problem.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Ken Geeslin said his precinct needed to consolidate boxes, pointing out that more than a third of all boxes were in Pct. 4 before redistricting (13 of 31). He also said the Fincastle box was located in a church that did not have electricity or adequate facilities.
In a letter to local newspapers, County Republican Party Chairwoman Betty Holland voiced her disagreement with Head.
“The choices made were intended to make the elections more efficient to administer, and to increase voter participation by moving the voters to more accessible, safe and comfortable voting locations for both the voter and those who conduct elections,” Holland wrote. “When we could close a less than up to standard voting location and provide safer locations with restrooms, adequate parking and wheelchair entrances, I would say the commissioners we elected were looking out for all voters and taxpayers. Saving money and providing a better place to vote was the result.”