A new analysis of voting precincts shows that Richmond County is among the 20 counties in the state with legislative district changes that can confuse voters and possibly lead to people receiving the wrong ballot at the polls.
The changes result from the General Assembly’s statewide redistricting plans which redrew the boundary lines for state House, State Senate and U.S. Congressional districts to adjust for population shifts in the past decade. Critics charge that district lines were also redrawn to give one party a political advantage over another.
Most voters will go to the same precinct polling site where they voted in 2010, but in many cases their ballots will have a different set of General Assembly and Congressional candidates due to the district changes.
The changes will be less obvious in Richmond County’s primary because the state House candidates are unopposed in their party’s primary and won’t appear on any ballot, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan election watchdog organization Democracy North Carolina. The primary election is May 8.
The largest source of confusion could come in future elections as a result of two thirds of the county’s precincts being split apart by two state House districts, which means neighbors going to the same polling location will receive different ballots with different candidates; for example, one voter will choose among candidates for House District 48 while another voter living down the block in the same precinct chooses among candidates for House District 66.
Rep. Garland Pierce of District 48 said he will now represent parts of Marston, Hoffman, Ellerbe, Dobbins Heights and Hamlet, which have split precincts as a result of the redrawn lines.
“People can live on opposite sides of the street and vote for different people,” said Pierce. “It will be a straight ticket though. We won’t see the problems of the more metropolitan areas like Fayetteville. I don’t think we’ll have those problems in Richmond County.”
“Garland Pierce has 40 percent of Richmond County,” explained Rep. Ken Goodman of District 66. “Last year I had all of Richmond County and all of Montgomery County apart from a few small areas. Now I have parts of Richmond, Scotland, Montgomery, Hoke and Robeson counties.”
In Richmond County’s situation, the redistricting seems to affect the politicians more so than the voters. Goodman said whichever party is in control of redistricting every 10 years after the U.S. Census draws the lines to favor the party. For instance, African Americans are grouped together for the representative’s minority quota. Goodman said he would rather just represent everyone in a county, because he doesn’t know how to represent just part of a county.
“I think I have more in common with an African American in Richmond County than I do a white person in Robeson County,” said Goodman, who is white. “I’m going to do the best I can, of course, but I don’t think Representatives should get to pick their voters. Voters should pick the Representatives. (Redistricting) shouldn’t be done by politicians.”
A State Senator represents 200,000 people and a Representative represents 83,000 people. Goodman said his district has grown to the size of that of a Senator.
Despite moving lines, the voters of Richmond County won’t have to choose a Representative on the ballot because both Pierce and Goodman are running unopposed.
“If somebody does want to run, consider the districts,” said Goodman.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.