Apr 27, 2010
Life, Liberty & Lynchburg [Feb 23]: University and city council clash over polling place
by Amanda Sullivan
Liberty University students have exercised their right to vote locally, and in so doing have expanded the Ward III-precinct 4 polling place to become the largest in Lynchburg. The growth of the polling place has sparked a heated debate among Liberty supporters and opponents. In last week’s private city council meeting, the council shot down the possibility of considering the alternative polling places proposed by Councilmen Jeff Helgeson and Turner Perrow, of the old Circuit City building and Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC).
The decision left the only choices as Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene on Wards Ferry Road or the original location of Heritage Elementary school.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. believes that the city council’s decision to not consider locations other than Heritage Elementary and Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene is a “slap in the face to Liberty students and to all the voters in Ward III who happen to be generally conservative.” He thinks that the council’s decision is a “travesty.”
“I think they are trying to make it as difficult as possible (to vote),” Helgeson said of his political counterparts. “It’s affecting both Liberty students and long-term voters of (Ward III-4).”
Mayor Joan Foster recently said in a City Council meeting that she had not heard from Liberty students about the event but that she had heard remarks from several Lynchburg residents.
“We as Liberty students are choosing to communicate to Council that we are deeply concerned with (the polling place) decision,” Liberty’s Student Government Association President Matt Mihelic said. “If they desire to put to vote a choice that will overtly limit the number of Liberty students able to cast their ballots, they will not do so without hearing from Liberty students first.”
But not all Liberty students feel that the students should make their voices known.
“As for me, I encourage the students, the administration, as well as anybody who is a part of the Liberty University family to decline any opportunity to vocalize our strength, and instead, I encourage my brothers in Christ to silently cast their vote on May...wherever the election is held,” College Democrats President Joel Krautter said.
The City Council’s decision to only consider one alternative polling location has caused several people to consider the council’s motives.
“(The council’s actions) raises the question as to whether or not the City Council is trying to prevent conservative voters from voting. If that’s the case, they’re breaking the law,” Falwell said. “If they’d tried to pull the same stunt in Ward I or II, I think the FBI and the ACLU would be camped out there, and they should.”
The idea of relocating or adding a polling place to the Ward III-4 precinct is not a new concept as the initiative was rejected 4-3 on Nov. 25, 2008. Foster, Vice Mayor Burt Dodson and Councilmen Michael Gillette and Ceasor Johnson did not support the vote, according to the City Council minutes. Ward III- precinct 4 comprises 19 percent of potential Lynchburg voters and Liberty affiliates make up 23 percent of all potential Lynchburg voters, according to the Director of Auxiliary Services Lee Beaumont. He said that his department arrived at the numbers from public voter registration numbers and university records.
The process of changing the polling place must occur quickly because a total of 75 days is needed in order for the change in the polling place to occur as the City Council is required to present a report to the Department of Justice for approval 60 days prior to election which will be held on May 4, according to Helgeson. The City Council also needs an additional 15 days to notify the residents of the change, making the deadline for the decision this Tuesday’s (Feb. 23) meeting.
“Students should be registered to vote and come to the meeting,” Helgeson said. “They should come and voice their concerns…They are trying to thwart any option. The students should send e-mails and letters to the council.”
Helgeson also encourages voters to be conscious about whom they elect to represent them.
“If you can’t get folks who will listen, you have to get new folks – you have to vote them out and vote in new people,” Helgeson said.
“You may hear some candidates claim they tried to help LU, but look at their actions and not their words” Beaumont said.
Contact Amanda Sullivan at