Three years ago, North Strabane voters waited in long lines during the presidential election, attracting a CNN reporter, cameraman and drone broadcasting live reports of the queue that formed at the township building.
With yet another presidential contest looming in 2020, changes are afoot for some voters in Washington County.
A plan formulated a few years ago aimed at getting Washington County voters in fast-growing municipalities in and out of polling places more quickly will take effect this November. The rollout is being done in advance of the presidential race, which garners the highest turnout, in an attempt to cut down on confusion next year.
The county also faced a constraint in that redistricting of polling places can’t be initiated during a year that coincides with the decennial census.
New voting district maps apply to those who live in Amwell, Cecil, Donegal, North Strabane and South Strabane townships.
“We used roads, rather than imaginary lines, to make boundaries,” said Melanie Ostrander, Washington County elections director.
Increasing North Strabane Township’s six precincts to nine was just one of the challenges the elections office undertook.
Although boundaries were realigned to create the nine voting districts, not everyone will be going to a new polling place come Nov. 5. Voters within the five municipalities will, however, be getting a new voter identification card. While identification cards have been mailed to Amwell, Donegal and South Strabane voters, the details are still being worked out for Cecil and North Strabane.
Waterdam Church, 208 Galley Road, is the only site in North Strabane that’s not already a polling place.
Redrawn precincts 1 and 4 will be voting at the North Strabane municipal building, Route 519, while new precincts 2 and 8 will be voting at the fire hall at 2550 Washington Road.
The former Precinct No. 1 had 3,013 voters, but this is being reduced to approximately 1,300.
“The state rule is there is not to be more than 1,200, so we’re a lot closer now,” Ostrander said. “We chose not to run boundary lines through housing developments, so we are slightly over the 1,200 maximum because of that.”
The threshold is aimed at keeping people from waiting in long lines or possibly forsaking their civic duty because they can’t spend an inordinate amount of time in line.
Populations have grown as former farmland has given way to housing developments.
Often, however, new housing subdivisions contain no public buildings that are suitable polling places.
Cecil Township, formerly home to six voting districts, will now have eight.
Its largest district had 3,383 registered voters. Now, the goal is that the largest precinct will have no more than 1,325 voters.
New voting sites include the Cecil Intermediate school at 3676 Miller’s Run Road, St. Mary Roman Catholic Church at 10 St. Mary’s Lane, and the Hilton Garden Inn, ballroom entrance around the back of the building, Parlor A, 1000 Corporate Drive.
Although the Hilton Garden Inn has an indoor pool and the registration desk offers chocolate chip cookies, Ostrander said, “You can’t use all their amenities, you can just go vote.”
Cecil Supervisor Eric Sivavec contacted the inn’s owners because “it’s easy to get into and everyone knows where it’s at. We’re going to have signs with arrows,” Ostrander said.
In South Strabane, there will be six voting districts, an increase from the previous five.
New polling places in South Strabane are Abundant Life Baptist Church, 269 Cameron Road, and Faith Presbyterian Church, 900 E. Beau St.
Amwell and Donegal will have two precincts apiece, and the townships have been bisected differently.
Replacing the previous imaginary line drawn from west to east across Amwell will be a boundary formed by Vankirk, Amity Ridge, Weaver Run and Pump Station roads. On a map, they appear to be a single road, but the by-way goes by different names.
The polling places remain the same – Lone Pine Volunteer Fire Department and Amwell VFD in Amity, “but different people will be going,” Ostrander said. “The Washington portion of Amwell is growing. while the Amity portion, not as much. We’re trying to prevent a future problem.”
The northern precinct will have 1,346 voters while the southern precinct will have 1,059.
Under previous elections director Larry Spahr, the county entered into a $12,000 contract with geodemographic consulting firm BonData, based in Hummelstown, Dauphin County, to determine voter registration by census block with roads as boundary lines and then draw new voting districts using computer software more sophisticated than what was available in the elections office.