Title

Council approves new precinct lines

Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) - Friday, August 19, 2011
Author: By NICHOLAS BERGIN ; nbergin@thehawkeye.com
Burlington could save $5,000 per election 

with new move. 

For Burlington resident Bryan Bross, voting is a community affair. It's a chance to see and chat with neighbors, poll workers and other familiar faces. 

But as of January, Bross will no longer cast his ballot within his neighborhood at Concordia Lutheran Church. 

New precinct lines approved by the city council Monday will have him voting across town at Autumn Heights Apartments. 

Just before the council voted unanimously to approve new maps, Bross asked officials to move the border of his precinct just a little so he could stay at Concordia Lutheran. 

"I would rather not be disenfranchised over to some other part of town where they don't know me, and I don't know them," Bross said. "That will be a real pain in the rear come voting day." 

Officials did not heed Bross' request because there was not enough time to redraw maps and get them approved by the Sept. 1 deadline for submitting the paperwork to the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. 

City officials have the option to redraw precincts after every census. The 2010 U.S. Census showed Burlington's population dropped 4.4 percent in the last decade to 25,663 residents. Fewer people combined with tight budgets made reducing the city's precincts from 12 to nine an attractive option. 

"Each precinct can have a maximum of 3,500 individuals. So based on our population, nine was the minimum number of precincts we could go to," said Eric Tysland, city planning and development director. 

Usually, the council would have passed three readings of the ordinance changing the precincts, which would give plenty of time for discussion and informing residents. 

But that public discourse did not happen because the council waived the second and third readings to meet the Sept. 1 deadline. 

City Manager Doug Worden apologized for not having the paperwork ready earlier, blaming the short notice on the fact the Des Moines County GIS Commission did not provide finalized maps until recently. 

The new precinct boundaries will not take effect until they are approved by state officials in January, according to Terri Johnson, Des Moines County elections coordinator. 

During the council meeting Monday, Worden erroneously stated the new maps would be used for the upcoming November municipal election. 

Officials plan to continue using the same polling locations, although two are being eliminated: Christ Episcopal Church, 623 N. Fifth St., and Corse Elementary School, 700 S. Starr St. While most polling stations remain, some residents, like Bross, will cast ballots at new locations due to the redrawn precincts. 

Councilman Jim Davidson expressed concerns some of the polling places are not centrally located within precincts. 

"Some of these voting places are at the far end of the precinct. Maybe we could encourage them (the county Auditor's office) to find something more centrally located," Davidson said. 

It is often difficult to find central locations that offer plenty of space for processing voters, are handicapped accessible and have decent parking, officials with the auditor's office have said. 

"Those places are hard to find. And no they can't always be centrally located. We wish they could, but it doesn't always work out that way," Johnson said Thursday. 

Both the county and city will save money by reducing the number of precincts. Tysland previously estimated the city could save up to $10,000 per municipal election, but Monday he revised his estimate to $5,000 per election. 

A map of the new precincts will be placed on the city's website, www.burlingtoniowa.org. Also, officials plan to create an option on the county GIS website, www.dmcgis.com, that will allow residents to enter their address and find out where they should vote. 

New precinct lines were drawn by the Des Moines County GIS Department using census data and input from the city planning and development department and the county auditor's office. 

The new map simplifies the precincts with borders following major streets. Previously, some precinct borders meandered through neighborhoods following creek beds and ravines. 

As part of the redistricting, Tama Township is being incorporated into Burlington's Precinct 1, and Concordia Township is being combined with Precinct 8. 

The auditor's office plans to send out new voter registration cards to residents in January. Even rural residents could notice some changes due to new state legislative maps, Johnson said. 

Des Moines County must review and submit revised precinct boundaries for rural areas to the state by Oct. 15. School and college districts must have their's done by 2013, Johnson said. 

Most smaller towns in Des Moines County, including West Burlington, consist of only a single precinct and do not need to redraw boundaries.