Forsyth County residents who thought they were being represented in Washington, D.C. by U.S. Rep. Mel Watt may get a surprise on their ballot this election season.
A highly controversial redistricting effort that the North Carolina General Assembly launched earlier this year is still causing confusion for some voters in the Twin City, according to voting rights advocates.
The overall redistricting, which has also affected the districts of many state lawmakers, has received considerable press, but many voters don’t realize that their households have been impacted by the changes, explained Susan Campbell, chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party. As the start of early voting on Oct. 18 draws closer, Campbell says she is fielding an increasing number of phone calls from disgruntled Democrats who are unhappy that they have been moved from Watt’s largely liberal 12th District to that of U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a conservative Republican who represents the state’s 5th District.
“A lot of folks don’t know that they’ve been redistricted,” said Campbell, who added that 21 of the 40 Watt precincts in the county have been redistricted to Foxx. “People need to know that Mel Watt is not going to be their representative.”
Watt’s district had never encompassed a large portion of Forsyth County. The snake-shaped district includes parts of several cities, including Charlotte, Lexington, Greensboro and High Point. Most of Forsyth has always been in the Fifth, which also includes parts or all of 11 other counties.
Rob Coffman, director of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, says the Board notified all voters who were affected by the redistricting when voter registration cards were mailed out last spring.
“It listed redistricting on the bottom, we made sure. It said on the card ‘changed for redistricting,’” Coffman said. “…I think we’ve done what we need to do for notification.”
Coffman recommended that voters who are unsure of their district consult the sample ballot on the BOE’s Web page, which is based upon street address and will contain up to date election information.
Washington Park resident Cornelia Barr said she knew congressional districts changes were coming. An unaffiliated voter, Barr was moved from the 12th to the 5th District. She is not angry; instead she is looking forward to supporting School Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger, the Democrat challenging Foxx. What Barr, head of the Gateway Environmental Initiative, says she didn’t expect was the difficulty she experienced in trying to find where she fell in her new district. At the time of the primary, when Barr began to search for new district lines, she says maps were hard to come by.
“It just seems that there should be a government vehicle that shows where the boundaries are,” said the mother of one.
Both Congressman Watt and Foxx have since added maps to their Web sites that allow voters to identify which district they live in, but many voting rights advocates – including Barr – believe that more publicity is needed if 5th and 12th District constituents are to go to the polls as informed voters.
“I’ve done a lot of voter registration over the years and I think it’s really important to approach this not as a partisan issue, but as a voting rights issue,” she said. “The more information we have, the more effective we can be as voters.”
Fleming El-Amin, a committee member for Precinct 81 at Oak Summit United Methodist Church, said he’s encountered quite a few people in his precinct who are surprised to find that they are now in the 5th District.
“It’s just the misinformation that’s out there, the confusion that’s out there, and it may discourage some people from actually voting because they can’t vote for the representative that they want to vote for,” El-Amin said.
Although the changes have been noted on voter registration cards, the seasoned poll worker said he expects there will still be some folks who don’t notice them until they get to the polls. El-Amin said he is working with nonpartisan groups such as Democracy NC to help make voters aware of the changes. He is hopeful that perhaps the redistricting will serve as a wake-up call to re-energize voters of every persuasion to exercise their civic duty by casting ballots this election season.
“Too many people wait until there’s a fire in the house before we get involved. We’ve just got to become more learned,” said the Glenn High School teacher. “I tell everybody I come in contact with ‘stay active, stay informed, and let’s move forward to advance our community.’ That’s my gospel that I preach everywhere I go.”
Early voting runs Thursday, October 18-Saturday, Nov. 3. To see which district you are in, view your sample ballot at HYPERLINK “http://www.forsyth.cc/Elections” www.forsyth.cc/Elections or call 336-703-2800.