Feb 16, 2010
Life Liberty and Lynchburg: Potential polling place causes strife
by Amanda Sullivan
Location is everything — a concept that many Lynchburg City Councilmen seem to comprehend. On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the city council put to vote the request to move the Ward III-4 polling place from Heritage Elementary School, which is where Liberty University resident students cast their ballots. The vote passed, but the new suggested polling place is only marginally closer to its largest bloc of voters, bypassing Liberty’s offer of the old Circuit City building, which is 1.3 miles from campus.
Residents within Ward III-4 precinct may have to travel to Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene to vote, but the decision is not final as Councilmen Jeff Helgeson and Turner Perrow have requested a “special meeting” to discuss relocating the polling place to an alternative location. The suggested location is 4.33 miles away from campus. The previous location at Heritage Elementary School was 4.76 miles from campus, according to Mapquest.
“The Circuit City building has excellent parking — easy in and out. It’s within the American’s with Disability Act (ADA) compliance. The buses can come in and drop off students and other riders, and everyone knows where it is. It’s a good location,” Helgeson said.
“The Lynchburg First Church of the Nazarene is a worse location than Heritage Elementary because of lack of parking, and a two lane road,” Helgeson said. “Buses cannot get in good and will have to stop on the road to drop off and pick up passengers, blocking traffic. Students will have to walk across Wards Ferry Road.”
Not all Lynchburg residents agree that moving the polling place closer to Liberty would be wise.
“That is disrespectful to the permanent residents of this precinct,” Vice Mayor Bert Dodson said at the meeting. “(There is) pressure from residents to not be treated as second class citizens.”
Mayor Joan Foster echoed Dodson’s remarks, saying that she has not heard from Liberty students about the potential move.
However, she had heard from “Citizens asking ‘Why are you messing with my precinct,’” according to Foster at the meeting.
“State code does allow a polling place to be located outside the precinct,” City Attorney Walter Erwin said at the council meeting on Feb. 9.. “The state code does say that a polling place can be located within a one mile boundary of the precinct.”
Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC) offered its location as a potential polling place.
Heritage High School was also a suggested site, according to the City Council meeting.
Council members were also asked to consider potential traffic congestion, which includes available parking spots and handicap parking spots.
Many have argued that relocating the polling place would make it cumbersome for the other voters. However, other Virginia communities have made voting easily accessible to collegiate voters. In fact, Liberty University’s precinct has comparable voter numbers as the precincts of Virginia Tech (VT), and University of Virginia (UVA) and more than Lynchburg College (LC).
• The VT precinct has a total of 5,715 registered voters with 1,317 actual voters casting their ballots in 2009, according to the Blacksburg Registrar.
• The UVA has two precincts where students may votes, depending upon where they live on campus. The first is Alumni Hall, which has a total of 2, 804 registered voters, of which 1,517 voted in the November 2008 election, according to the Charlottesville Registrar. The second location is Venable Elementary School, where there are 5,628 registered voters with 2,988 voting in the Fall 2008 election, according to the Charlottesville Registrar.
• The LC precinct has a total of 3,923 registered voters with 1,447 voting in the last 2009 local election, according to the Lynchburg Registrar.
• Liberty University’s voting precinct has 5,599 registered voters with 2,305 voting in the Fall 2009 election, according to the Lynchburg Registrar.
The colleges also have polling places within three miles of their campuses.
• VT students are only required to travel 2.8 miles to vote.
The City Council’s decision must be made quickly in order for the change to take effect prior to the upcoming May 4 election. The proposal must be submitted to the Justice Department for approval 60 days before the election.
“If we’re going to make a change to the polling place, I want it to be a change for the better,” Helgeson said.
The Lynchburg City Council has scheduled a special meeting to discuss moving the Ward III-4 polling place to accommodate voters. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The proposed voting sites will include TRBC and the Circuit City building in Candler’s Station, according to Helgeson.
Contact Amanda Sullivan at
**A Look at Polling
The undergraduate student population at LC is 2,589. Liberty’s student body is five times larger than that of LC at just under 12,000. UVA has 13,762 undergraduate students, and VT has the most with 23,567. There are no numbers to show exactly how many students voted in each of the precints below.
The distance to the polling location for Liberty students is almost twice as far than that of Virginia Tech students. Voter turnout was 18 percent higher at the Liberty precinct.
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