New Castle News

July 15, 2013

County looks to modify election precincts

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Three years ago, Lawrence County officials consolidated election precincts to reflect population changes.

Most of the consolidation occurred in New Castle, which has experienced significant population loss over several decades. Other precincts were consolidated in Ellwood City and New Beaver.

Overall, 106 precincts in the county were cut to 79. In the city, 41 precincts were reduced to 18.

Now, county officials are looking to consolidate and even add some more districts, primarily in eight townships.

When the new maps are finalized, the county will register a net loss of four precincts, bringing the total to 75.

But the redistricting must go through several steps before it becomes official.

The county elections office, which is redrawing the maps, will present the recommendation to a committee made up of county assessor J.R. Hardester, planning director Amy McKinney, Allen Miller of the planning office, attorney Jack Seltzer and elections director Ed Allison.

If the committee gives its approval, the recommendation will go to the county Board of Elections. It will then have to be approved by the county common pleas court and finally by the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Township supervisors and the Republican and Democratic chairmen will be informed about the process, Allison said.



TARGET DATE

The goal, he said, is to have the new maps in effect for the May 2014 primary election.

The new maps will try to reflect as much as possible state election code requirements for precinct size. Allison said the state election code requires precincts to have no less than 300 voters and no more than 1,200 voters. Plus, every municipality is guaranteed at least one polling site regardless of population.

Scott Township, for example, has only one precinct, but it’s one of the county’s largest — 1,622 registered voters as of the May primary. The plan is to split the precinct and, therefore, end up with two districts in the township.

Shenango and Neshannock townships would also gain one precinct apiece under the plan.

North Beaver and Wayne townships would lose two precincts apiece and Mahoning and Slippery Rock townships would lose one apiece.

New Castle would also lose one precinct through the consolidation of the two districts in the Sixth Ward on the city’s West Side. Even with the consolidation, the new district will have less than 800 voters.



THE PLAN

Following are the other proposed changes:

•Shenango Township — The Fifth Precinct with 1,935 voters would be split to create another district. The district is bordered on the north by Hickory Township, on the west by the city and on the east by Slippery Rock Township.

•Neshannock Township — Three precincts have more than 1,200 voters apiece. Allison said the border between the Fourth and Sixth precincts would be changed. This would lower the number in the Fourth Precinct, which now has 1,227 voters, and expand the number in the Sixth Precinct, which has 766 voters.

Parts of the Seventh and Third precincts would be carved out to create a new precinct. The Seventh and Third precincts, with 1,747 and 1,441 voters respectively, abut each other and are essentially divided by Wilmington Road, Allison said.

•Union Township — The number of precincts would remain at four, but boundaries would be shifted to shrink the two larger precincts. The larger precincts have more than 1,500 voters each while the other two have less than 400 apiece.

•North Beaver Township — The First Precinct, which includes both sides of Route 108, Mount Jackson and Jackson Knolls, has 1,131 votes and would remain the same. The plan is to combine the Third Precinct with the  Fourth Precinct and the Second Precinct with the Fifth Precinct.

•Mahoning Township — The First Precinct, with 1,002 voters, would remain the same. The district covers the Edinburg area to Route 422.

The Second and Third precincts would be combined. The Second, which has 641 voters, includes Hillsville and residents on both sides of Route 224. The Third, with 360 voters, runs along Routes 422 and 224 to the Ohio line.

•Wayne Township — Four precincts would be reduced to two. Route 65 would be the dividing line between the two new precincts, Allison said.

•Slippery Rock Township — The Second and Third precincts, which have a total of 900 voters, would be consolidated. Plus, part of the First Precinct, which has 1,288 voters, would be merged with the consolidated districts.

Allison said his staff looked at the demographics, including 2010 census figures, and new housing starts over the last two years.

The staff, he said, also has to consider the availability of both polling sites and election officials at those sites. The goal, he said, is to get people elected as judges and inspectors of elections in those districts to minimize the number of vacancies that would have to be filled through appointment.

“We’re trying to make sure that everything fits as well,” he said. “We’re not just playing a numbers game.”

(Email: jmanna @ncnewsonline.com)