Split precincts bill passes with amendments

March 16, 2020

SB 740 (Obenshain and Barker) seeks to address the issue of split precincts, in which one polling place serves voters in more than one state House or Senate or congressional district.  As reported in an earlier edition of Capitol Contact, similar legislation has been considered and passed by the Senate in the last several years.  VACo has historically supported a different approach to the issue, which would permit the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to district lines in order to “reunite” split precincts, but bills to authorize such a process have been vetoed in recent years, and a Constitutional amendment on the topic failed to emerge from subcommittee this session.  SB 740 would instead place the responsibility on localities to make changes to local precinct lines after the completion of General Assembly redistricting in order to ensure that no precincts are split; the local governing body would need to apply for a waiver from the State Board of Elections to operate a split precinct if it was unable to draw precinct lines so as to avoid operating a precinct with fewer than the statutory minimum number of voters.

VACo has raised concerns about the bill’s assumption that localities can wait until the completion of General Assembly redistricting to undertake local redistricting efforts.  Counties with local elections in November 2021 will need to begin work on redrawing local district lines as soon as Census data is available (which is expected in February) in order to be prepared for the November general election and potentially also August primaries.  If the General Assembly redistricting is not completed in a timely manner, localities would be challenged to fix any precinct splits created by state redistricting (or seek waivers to operate split precincts), notify voters of any changes in precinct assignments, and make other preparations for an August primary and early voting for the November general election, which would start in mid-September.

Amendments were offered in committee that intend to allow localities in such a situation to use the state district lines as they stood as of a certain date to adjust their precinct splits (rather than having to wait until the state redistricting process is complete), so that preparations for the August primary and November general election would not be delayed if General Assembly redistricting were delayed.  Additional amendments are necessary to clarify this concept and ensure that localities that do not have local elections in November 2021 would be able to complete their local redistricting processes on a more flexible timeline.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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