Justice Dept. OKs new Ward 5 polling place

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice helps clear the wayfor Brookhaven officials to change the Ward Five voting place fromthe chamber of commerce building to the city recreation departmenton Highway 51.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said he received a letter Monday fromthe department stating it has no objections to the voting placemove. The federal review was required under the Voting RightsAct.

“The Justice Department is saying there will not be a diminutionof black voting strength, and that’s where we are,” Fernaldsaid.

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Fernald said the next step is to contact local party andelection commission officials regarding formal approval to relocatethe voting place to the city offices in the old National Guardarmory. This year’s municipal primaries are scheduled for May 3,and the general election is June 7.

Ward Five alderman candidates applauded the move to relocate thevoting precinct.

Incumbent Tom Smith said the move is a “long time coming.” Hesaid he had been working for four years to have the voting placemoved.

“It’s going to be a place in the ward,” said Smith, pointing outthat the chamber of commerce is actually in Ward Four.

It was unclear how long or why the Ward Five’s voting place hasbeen out of the ward.

Smith and other candidates mentioned several accessibilityissues regarding the move to the recreation department, whichserves as the voting place for the Northwest Brookhaven precinct incounty and federal elections. He said the recreation department ishandicap accessible and has more space than the chamberbuilding.

“We just need to notify the people,” Smith said.

D.W. Maxwell, Smith’s Democratic primary opponent, said he wasin favor of the voting place relocation.

“It would be better for voters of Ward Five,” Maxwell said. “Youdo have better access.”

Either Smith or Maxwell will face Republican Don Godbold in thegeneral election. Ward Five alderman will be the only contestedrace on the general election ballot.

Godbold mentioned improved parking as another benefit of thevoting place move.

“I feel it would be more accessible for everyone to get in andout,” Godbold said.

While Ward Five’s voting place is in line to be moved, itsstatus as a voting location for that ward could be short-lived dueto annexation.

“All the polling places are subject to change because we will beredistricting,” Fernald said.

A city annexation case is still pending, and Fernald had no newinformation on its status Monday. Determination of polling placeswould depend on how ward lines are moved and what areas areincluded in the redefined wards.

“It might be a polling place for another ward, but I feelcertain it will be a polling place,” Fernald said of the recreationdepartment office.