Before the 1st Congressional District special election fades in our memory, I would like to make some observations and a recommendation based upon my volunteer work on Election Day.
I served as a poll watcher at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School, the polling place for two precincts, Charleston 8 and 9. As it turns out, both precincts are known as “split” precincts with regard to the 1st Congressional District line, i.e., some voters live in the 1st District while others live in the 6th District.
In other words, the congressional district lines do not follow or respect the precinct lines. Consequently, some voters in Charleston 8 and 9 were eligible to vote in last week’s election while others (who reside in Congressional District 6) were not eligible
This “split” precinct situation led to problems and hurt feelings on Election Day. The spirited contest led to some enthusiasm among voters, and a goodly number of folks really wanted to vote. Imagine you lived in Charleston Precinct 8 or 9, and you were inclined to cast your ballot on May 7.
You make sure you have your picture ID and get to the polls at Sanders-Clyde Elementary and check in as you would normally do, and the poll manager promptly informs you after entering your name in the computer, “You’re not eligible to vote today, you must live in District 6.”
The impact of the situation was more pronounced in this special election with only the 1st Congressional contest on the ballot; in a general election the voter would still be able to go to the machine and vote for other contests that might be on the ballot such as governor, U.S. Senate, etc. But the net effect was that most voters were ineligible and turned away.
The poll managers did an admirable job trying to explain the situation but were provided with no district maps or aids to explain.
When the poll manager called election headquarters and asked for a district map to help with explanation, she was told to call the County Planning Office. She was too busy trying to calm down upset voters to do that.
The most disturbing part to some of the voters was that the eligibility seemed to run along racial lines. But I guess that wouldn’t be surprising with the common knowledge that race is a big factor when our elected officials get together to gerrymander district lines.
And it certainly appeared that the majority of eligible voters were white and obviously lived in the District 1 part of the precincts and most of the ineligible voters were African American and lived in the District 6 portion of the precincts.
Now my father, Henry Tecklenburg, had some choice, succinct sayings, and one of them that I remember well went like this, “It ain’t what it is, it’s what it seems to be!”
Some would say that perception is stronger than reality.
How do you think that African- American gentleman felt when contending with the poll manager that his right to vote was being violated, and then a white couple came up and went through the approval process without a hitch and went on to the booth to vote?
I know he may just not have understood after seeing his precinct listed in the paper that morning, that he didn’t live in the right congressional district whereas the white folks who just voted did. But he was upset and I must say, it looked bad, it “seemed to be” wrong.
So I’ll make a final observation and then my recommendation. It’s more than ironic, it’s sad that drawing district lines could cause such ill will, particularly when one of the original intents of single-member districts was to ensure that African Americans would have a chance to get elected in the first place.
In my opinion, over time single- member districts and gerrymandering have become mostly about protecting incumbents and have led to a devolution of a competitive political process. That’s a subject that merits further discussion.
The simple recommendation in the meantime is that precinct lines should be respected when district lines are drawn.
“Split” precincts of any district — congressional, state Senate, state House — lead to confusion at the polls and for election officials who administer our elections.
Get rid of “split” precincts.
John J. Tecklenburg