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Hamilton Co. Election Commission votes on new precinct map, promises greater transparency

While polling places have not been finalized several members of the public, particularly residents in the new District 11, are advocating that the election com. place an early polling location at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center. This instead of John A Patton Rec. Center (Image: WTVC)
While polling places have not been finalized several members of the public, particularly residents in the new District 11, are advocating that the election com. place an early polling location at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center. This instead of John A Patton Rec. Center (Image: WTVC)
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The Hamilton County Election Commission is promising more transparency in the next steps of a once-in-a-decade process.

Thursday morning the commission approved new precinct lines which would determine where you can vote.

Those precincts were drawn based on newly adopted county lines and the guidelines set by Tennessee law.

The election commission met before a packed room of community members.

Hamilton County Election Administrator Scott Allen told us he’s never seen this level of engagement in the election process and that this was the highest turnout he has seen at an election commission meeting.

As a result of the heightened interest, the commission is committing to some big changes.

At the end of Thursday's meeting, the election commission approved new precincts.

The voting precinct map shows that the county will be going from 135 voting precincts to 88 voting precincts.

"There will be some people that will have a different polling location. But it was one of our top priorities to try to keep people going to the same facilities that they've been used to for over the last 10 years," said Nate Foster the Assistant Administrator of Elections.

The election commission says the move saves the county money without making significant changes to polling locations.

Still the concern for some is how news of changes will be delivered to the community.

And because, state lines still have not been finalized there could be some future adjustments.

"The primary significance of the precinct is so that voters in an area know where they go on election day," explained Assistant Election Administrator Nate Foster.

Residents at Thursday's meeting were given time to ask questions and share comments with the election commissioners.

Rosemary Porter is an Alton Park Resident who addressed commissioners.

The redistricting process put her in district 11, one of Hamilton county’s two new districts. She is one of many Alton Park Residents who told us she felt they were an afterthought in the redistricting process.

"We haven't had any real notification. They didn't send it out or anything. You know, we found out through word of mouth and it was a done deal," said Porter.

Now Porter is hoping community input will help the election commission increase voter turnout as more new voting changes are rolled out.

"When early voting locations are not accessible through public transportation, when there's not information being sent to voters and they're not being actively engaged in the process, we see those low voter turnout numbers stay the same," said Michaela Winter, a community coordinator with Community Led Redistricting.

Alton Park resident Gertha Lee was also moved to district 11 as a result of redistricting.

"With the addition of the two electoral districts, new precincts and polling sites, the need to encourage voter education and voter turnout is clear," said Lee.

Residents asked the election commission to do more to notify the public and increase transparency.

"What we're really asking for here is more outreach to voters," said Winter.

The election commission committed Thursday to bolster their website and add a feature that would help residents find their polling location.

They also said they would increase their social media presence and post commission meeting transcripts online from now on.

Those meeting minutes were previously only available through public record request.

"We have to make sure that we're providing voters with information that by law they have access to and should know," said Foster.

The commission also says once precincts and polling places are finalized, they will send every Hamilton County resident a new voting card so that they are aware of changes to their polling locations.

While we don’t yet know how many people will be voting at new locations in the next election, the election commission tells us around 60,000 voters were impacted by the redistricting process.

Also during Thursday's meeting, several members of the public, particularly residents in the new district 11, advocated that the election commission place an early polling location at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center.

This instead of at the John A Patton Recreation Center.

Residents like Rosemary Porter pleaded her case to the election commission.

"Well, I use public transportation, because I don't have any transportation. And I wouldn't be able to get to the down to the John A. Patton Rec Center to go to early vote. Whereas, if I had to go to South Chattanooga Rec, I can easily catch a bus and be there in less than five minutes," said Porter.

The election commission has already locked in new early polling locations in Soddy Daisy and Ooltewah in addition to the existing 3 early voting sites.

"We wanted everyone in Hamilton County proper to be within 15 minutes of an early voting site," said Michael Walden, Chairman of the Election Commission.

Jill Black is also a district 11 resident who hopes to see the South Chattanooga Recreation Center become the Southside's early voting site.

"There's not a big difference in the drive time in a car. But one of these centers is accessible by public transportation and one isn't," said Black.

The election commission says they used population and drive time data to make decisions for the other two new early voting locations.

Residents say for Southside community members, public transportation is another important factor to consider.

"You have a lot of elderly people, handicapped people, you have a lot of people who don't have transportation, and they depend on public transportation," said Porter.

The Hamilton County Election Commission will revisit where to place the last early voting site during their next meeting on January 12th

Check out the latest precinct map below:

The three big state guidelines for drawing precincts are:

  1. No more than 6 thousand registered voters per precinct.
  2. A precinct cannot have more than one county commission district.
  3. A precinct cannot have more than one state senate district.


In a September 15th meeting, Hamilton County's Interim Election Administrator Scott Allen said, "We would like to-- through this process, limit the number of small precincts. Right now we currently have 135 precincts and only 67 polling places."

He went on to explain that every precinct requires a minimum number of staffers on Election Day so consolidating precincts saves the county money.

He also said the election commission wants to keep as many current polling locations as possible. But what could change is who is assigned to vote at each one.

Michaela Winter with UnifiED says she understands the need to consolidate precincts, but says the impact this will have on our community is still unknown at this point.

"The need to consolidate precincts here is clear. But are we going to do it in a way that embraces voter turnout and makes it easier for voters? Or are some communities going to be facing more barriers to go to their polling location in 2022?" said Winter.

Alton park residents told us earlier they're concerned changing Alton Park's voting precinct to match the new commission districts will be an extra burden for residents, especially those who rely on public transportation.

The League of Women Voters also echoed concerns about access to polling places.

" We don't want people to have to travel long distances, to have access to the vote," said Interim President of Chattanooga's League of Women Voters, Kerry Lansford.

Assistant Administrator of Elections Nathan Foster also told us that the rules for drawing precinct lines as well as establishing polling places are set by Tennessee law.

In a statement Foster elaborated " The goal is to get the number of precincts closer to matching the number of polling places through precinct consolidation. It may not be possible to reduce the number of precincts; we won’t know until we sit down with GIS. The meeting where the election commission adopts the new precinct lines will be a public meeting. We will be mailing all impacted voters a new voter registration card."

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