A perfect storm of state ballot issues, an empty city marshal’s office and the reapportionment of voting districts have combined to raise some concerns over the potential for voter disenfranchisement in Iberia Parish.
According to Iberia Parish Registrar of Voters Kristie Blanchard, however, the reduction in the number of precincts for the Oct. 9 election are not an attempt to make voting harder. Instead, they are an improvised step necessary as officials wait for census data to draw new district maps and, subsequently, voting precincts.
“Normally, we would not have an election during a reapportionment year,” Blanchard said. “No one is being moved out of their council district or their voting precinct, but we are consolidating some polling locations.”
The voters who will be facing the longest drive to vote are those who had previously voted at Sugarland Elementary School on Jefferson Island Road. That polling station will be closed on Oct. 9, with those precincts’ voters instead moving to the Francis Romero Memorial Building in Coteau, more than seven miles away.
“That’s too far for voters to walk,” Iberia Parish Clerk of Court David Ditch said.
That change will affect only parish residents. Of concern to city residents is the movement of the polling station at the Johnston-Hopkins Elementary School to Anderson Middle School. That move, however, is in the same city block, less than a mile away.
The Iberia Parish Council approved the plan to open limited precincts as the reapportionment effort gets underway in a resolution passed last month.
Blanchard explained to council members that the parish would use a 37-precinct map for its election in October, when the New Iberia City Marshal seat will be contested.
When the city race was the only one on the ballot, the smaller voting site footprint was not an issue. But since then, the state has added four other items to that ballot, based on issues passed during the legislative session. Now, instead of a citywide election, the October ballot involves parishwide voting, which requires more polling places.
Complicating the issue further is the fact that the plan for polling places has already been submitted to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
“We can’t change it,” Blanchard said. “It has already been approved.”
Approximately 21,000 new voter registration cards, listing the polling location for the October election, will be sent out next week for those voters who will see a change in voting site.
“We’re going to get calls,” Blanchard said. “What’s confusing is that the lines for the taxing jurisdictions — council districts, school board districts, ward courts and things like that — are not going to change. The only thing that will be changed for this election is the polling place, because we are not finished with the reapportionment.”
The upside, Blanchard said, is that the statewide ballot issues are usually low-turnout elections. But the New Iberia City Marshal race, she said, will draw interest for those voters in the city.
“We had strong turnout for that last cycle,” she said.
After the October election, Blanchard said the new data will be used to set the new district and precinct map in place, with a little more than 50 precincts, in time for the March election. That will still be a reduction in precincts, based on a routine combining of precincts with lower numbers of registered voters, from the previous precinct map.
The final reapportionment plan, Blanchard said, may not be ready until 2023 or later.
“It’s a three- to four-year process,” Blanchard said. “So we will be sending out cards when the precincts change again. Someone may have voted in the same place for 70 years, but we have to make adjustments based on the population shifts.”