Although they have already approved a parish-wide reapportionment plan, established ordinances and resolutions identifying voting precincts and polling places, some St. Landry Parish council members remain concerned about where their constituents are scheduled to vote on Election Day.
Council members have indicated that they still have questions about the locations of polling places before launching their 2023 re-election campaigns and have agreed to form a five-member committee to reexamine the issue with the assistance of demographer Mike Hefner.
The committee plans to discuss polling place complaints with Hefner during a yet unscheduled meeting, according to a discussion before a vote by the full council was taken on the matter during a regular Council meeting Wednesday night.
Earlier this year, council and parish school board members approved in separate voting, a reapportionment plan based on the 2020 census, which reconstitutes the lines for each of the 13 St. Landry election districts.
Both sets of elected parish officials met together late in 2021 and again in January and February with Hefner, who presented election district maps that were studied by board and council members.
'We are to blame': Council apologizes for polling place changes, confusion
In addition board members and council members also agreed to a plan which increased the number of voting precincts from the 53 approved by the Council in 2021, enlarging the number to the current 94, Hefner said during a telephone interview on Friday.
Hefner said the current precinct plan has consolidated a number of voting precincts.
“If there had not been consolidation, (St. Landry) would have had 121 precincts,” Hefner said during the interview.
Lauren Jones, the deputy registrar in St. Landry, said in a previously published Daily World story that she and staff members in the Registrar of Voters Office began handling a barrage of phone calls after voters began receiving their voter registration cards from the Secretary of State.
Most of the calls handled by Registrar employees Jones said, involved complaints about voting at a new polling location.
It’s not unusual Hefner said on Friday that both voters and elected officials have complaints after reapportionment is finalized.
“It’s really a normal thing. That always happens. Due to reapportionment precinct and boundary lines change. When that happens, polling places change,” Hefner said during the interview.
Hefner added that some of the registration cards mailed recently to St. Landry voters probably contained errors.
“Some of these (errors) occurred on the Secretary of State side, while others happened on the local (parish) side. Those problems were getting resolved and the errors that were there have been in the process of being removed. I haven’t heard of any others or new ones that have occurred lately,” Hefner said.
Parish president Jessie Bellard told council members they should not expect any changes in polling place locations anytime soon.
“The precincts for (the Nov. 8 election) are set. That’s not going to change. Possibly (the Council) will be able to look at this again, but that won’t happen probably until 2024 (for the presidential election).
Council members complaints
Council member Jerry Red, Jr. said another meeting with (Hefner) should occur in order to resolve what Red described as issues with precincts parish-wide.
“(Hefner) really needs to come back (to meet with the Council),” council member Nancy Carriere said during the Wednesday night meeting.
Red, who represents District 1, claimed the Council had been reassured “that everything had been put back like before.”
That’s not the case, according to Red.
He explained that some voters inside Opelousas in District 1 are now driving to Lawtell to vote.
“People who used to vote at Opelousas Junior High are going across town to a church. (Parish Code Enforcement Director Richard Lewis) lives around Grolee (in Opelousas) and now he goes to Prairie Ronde to vote,” Red noted.
Council member Mildred Thierry said individuals in the Ko Ko Mo subdivision northwest of Opelousas have normally voted at the nearby Community Action Agency.
Thierry said since redistricting occurred, the voters in the Ko Ko Mo subdivision are now driving a further distance to cast ballots at Northwest High in Prairie Ronde.
District 9 Council Member Wayne Ardoin said some Opelousas voters in his election district are now traveling six miles away to Sunset in order to vote.
Ardoin said the council is ultimately at fault.
“We are the ones who made the ordinance. The problem we are having is there are a number of people who have been used to going to one place or another and not voting at that place now,” Ardoin said.
This article originally appeared on Opelousas Daily World: St. Landry Parish election polling place locations focus of committee