Rushing to avoid polling place chaos in February, Gila County has begun the process of juggling precincts and polling places to accommodate new district lines from the supervisor seats to the Gila County Community College board.
Complicating preparations, officials have not sent the new district maps to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for review.
“My goal is by the end of November to have three or four submissions ready for the Department of Justice,” said Linda Eastlick, director of elections.
The supervisors spent months settling on the new district lines, which leaves the county staff to work out the nitty-gritty details of adjusting precinct lines to avoid voter confusion at the next election — and reduce the chance of lawsuits by irritated candidates.
Each submission to the justice department includes massive amounts of information. Eastlick has included all of the meeting minutes and agendas, handouts, public comments and map drawings, plus the Spanish translations for each item. For one submission, she has six, four-inch-thick binders.
The Department of Justice must review the county’s maps to make sure the new district lines don’t fragment either the Apache reservations or Hispanic neighborhoods in south county in a way that dilutes minority voting rights.
Once the DOJ receives submissions, it has 60 days to review the information, leaving barely enough time before the February primary elections.
“We’re pretty confident these changes will be accepted by DOJ,” said Eastlick.
However, county supervisors and staff do not plan on waiting for the DOJ to complete its review before launching into redrawing precinct maps and relocating polling places.
“We need to be a little more proactive than 10 years ago,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.
“The experience was not a pleasant one 10 years ago. We need constant public information going out, especially during petition signing time,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson.
Candidates must get signatures of voters who live in their districts on nominating petitions, which means they have to know exactly where the lines lie long before the actual election.
By educating the public early, the county hopes to avoid lawsuits. Lawsuits may be lodged against candidates who don’t know where the new precinct lines lie. If potential candidates collect signatures from voters who live outside their district, they could end up disqualified from running. Likewise, if candidates feel the county didn’t draw precinct lines correctly, they can file suit.
In the Rim Country, the only major changes to precincts and polling places occur in Pine and Strawberry.
Highway 87 will now divide the precincts. The precinct west of the highway will now be named Pine-Strawberry West and east of the highway will be Pine-Strawberry East. The polling place for both precincts will remain at the First Baptist Church of Pine.
The remainder of the precinct and polling changes occur in south county. For a detailed explanation, see Gila County’s Web site.