Though the next presidential election is not until 2016, the county registrar’s office is starting to plan. County Registrar Teresa Smithson recently suggested site changes for roughly 11 polling place locations in the county.
Smithson said she is primarily concerned with existing polling precincts in the following magisterial districts: one in Ashland, one in Beaverdam, two in Cold Harbor, two in Chickahominy, one in Mechanicsville, one in Henry and three in South Anna.
“We’re always looking down the road to the next presidential election,” Smithson said.
The next one is not too far away and Smithson said she is concerned that many polling precincts in Hanover have limited parking and congestion on nearby roads — entering and exiting voting sites.
There are 37 total polling sites in the county, including one absentee voter location that opens 45 days before an election and makes sure military and other absentee voters are able to cast their ballots.
One of the polling places that Smithson said is a big concern is the Shady Grove location where votes are cast in the cafeteria at Washington-Henry Elementary School, one of two precincts housed at the school. The precinct could be relocated to Northside Baptist Church on Studley Road about 1.4 miles from the existing location.
During the 2012 presidential election, Smithson said the school was filled with lines of people waiting to vote at both Shady Grove and the other polling place, Clay, which resides in the school’s library. Smithson added that the lines got so bad that sent out a deputy to help with the situation.
“These things can be mitigated by separating the precinct out,” she said.
Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek, Chickahominy District representative, agrees that the volume of voters can make the precinct a little hectic at times during presidential election years, resulting in long lines at both polling places in the school. But she is concerned that a change could cause more confusion for voters and wants to contact all interested parties before decisions are made.
“I want to make sure that before we make another change, that it’s moving in the right direction,” Kelly-Wiecek said.
The other precinct up for discussion in her district is at Atlee High School because of its heavy voter turnout during presidential elections.
Smithson suggested a portion of the voters at this precinct move to Cool Springs Baptist Church. In the last presidential election, 2,882 people voted at Atlee. Smithson expressed concerns that the location may be reaching the threshold for a polling place. County Attorney Sterling Rives said Atlee is not at that level yet, because Virginia code says there must be 4,000 votes at a specific precinct in a presidential election to warrant the registrar to notify the electoral board of any capacity issues.
In efforts to talk to all concerned parties, Kelly-Wiecek said she will talk to both pastors at the suggested precinct relocation sites in addition to hearing citizen input.
Three precincts in the South Anna District are up for discussion.
The Farrington Volunteer Fire Company Station 11 precinct on Mountain Road has 2,270 voters. Smithson’s main issue with this location is that it has limited parking — 29 parking spaces and two handicap spots. The suggested relocation-polling place is at the former fire station site, which is now the Jessica Beath Clinic.
South Anna Supervisor and Vice Chairman Wayne T. Hazzard agreed with the registrar’s points and said there are concerns with the dangerous traveling route up to the precinct because of the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit.
“I think that one is more of a safety issue than anything else,” Hazzard said.
As for the other suggestions for new sites, Hazzard does not believe there will be any “demand” for precincts at the Rockville Library and Elmont Elementary School locations to be moved.
Supervisor Ed Via, representing the Ashland District, expressed concern regarding Smithson’s suggestion to move the Chickahominy Fire Station precinct, located in the Air Park, to Kings Charter Clubhouse along Kings Charter Drive.
Smithson said the existing precinct location has a small parking lot and voters may have a difficult time entering and leaving the fire station.
In response, at the board’s April 9 meeting, Via said he has worked at the polling place for more than 20 years and would not support relocating it.
“It’s got great access and I’ve never witnessed any problems with citizens getting in and out of there,” Via said.
Another proposed change is for the Mechanicsville Elementary School polling site in the Mechanicsville District. Smithson said this location is too crowded and has limited options for parking. She recommended the site be moved to Mechanicsville Church of Christ on Atlee Road.
While the district’s supervisor, W. Canova Peterson agreed, with the registrar that the precinct can get busy, he said that parking has not been an issue for him.
“I’m having a little problem with doing a change for the sake of change,” Peterson said at the board meeting.
In the Beaverdam District, Smithson said the current precinct at the Doswell Fire Station is not large enough.
“We are outgrowing [it],” she said.
Beaverdam District Supervisor Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley said he supported the suggested move to the Doswell Ruritan Club located .7 miles from the existing polling place location.
“I’m on board,” Stanley said, at the supervisors’ April meeting.
As for the Cold Harbor District, Smithson suggested that the Cold Harbor Elementary School precinct, which has about 3,120 registered voters, move to Fairmount Christian Church, just under 1 mile away.
“I don’t see Cold Harbor exploding with growth, but I think that this is an area that has caused us concern about outgrowing that space,” Smithson said.
Supervisor Elton Wade was not against the relocation.
“I [will] just need to let my people know that there have been changes because most people in that area know [to vote at] Cold Harbor School,” Wade said.
The second precinct change in Wade’s district would be at the Black Creek Fire Station No. 12. Smithson suggested the polling place move to the Black Creek Church, the former fire station site, on 6229 McClellan Road. She said the existing polling place is located along a “blind curve” and fire trucks use the same entrance and exit as voters.
“It is problematic for the voters,” Smithson said. “The voters are not happy with it and we hear about it quite often —every election as a matter of fact.”
Wade supported this proposal.
“I’m very happy with it going back to the old fire house,” he said.
One other precinct change is in Henry District at Eastern Hanover Fire Station No. 3 located on Route 360. Smithson’s main concern is the limited parking at this location and suggested the polling place be moved to New Bethesda Baptist Church.
Supervisor and Chairman Sean Davis, Henry District representative, agreed that there have been parking issues, but asked the registrar if her office had received any voter complaints. Smithson said some folks have called saying, “I had to stand out in the rain and I couldn’t get in.”
Smithson said that changes to polling locations are only suggested when “there is a need.” During three and a half years on the job, Smithson said her first time talking to the supervisors about any adjustments was at the April meeting.
Many supervisors have expressed interest to hear citizen input about the possibility of precinct changes.
Kelly-Wiecek plans to engage with voters in the Chickahominy District at a May town hall meeting to hear their input on the proposed Shady Grove precinct relocation.
Ultimately, any location changes for polling precincts are in the hands of the board of supervisors.
“All I can do is give them the information that we’ve found to be problematic,” Smithson said.
The county registrar said she hopes the board will make a decision by July 27, because it would mark 100 days before the November presidential election and no changes can be made to precinct locations after Sept. 5.
Supervisors will hold a May work session to review and discuss the concerns presented by the registrar’s office and talk about alternatives. Citizens can provide input at a public hearing in June.