By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Board of Elections announced this week that it will merge two voting precincts due to logistical issues.
The board voted unanimously to merge Sylva North/Dillsboro, which voted at the Justice Center, and Sylva South Ward, which voted at the Skyland Service Center-Election Board office. The new precinct is Sylva/Dillsboro Combined Precinct and voters will cast ballots at the Skyland Service Center located at 876 Skyland Drive.
The decision to combine the two was made due to security and organizational issues connected with holding polls at the Justice Center, said Lisa Lovedahl, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections.
“Everybody had to go through the metal detectors,” She said. “You don’t want that for voting; you want people free to go in and out, so we had a conflict there.”
The sheriff’s office tried to accommodate voters by allowing them to enter through that office to access the polling place set up in a board room, but the situation was not ideal.
The board discussed the issue for two years to find a replacement that met state requirements but could not.
“There just was nothing available for us in the Sylva North/Dillsboro precinct, so at that time Jackson County government gave money to extend the polling place where we had one stop (voting) in Sylva South polling place and we combined the two precincts so that we would have an area that met all the ADA and legal requirements, and the voters would not have to go through security,” Lovedahl said.
The Skyland Service Center location has been expanded, and overflow parking will be provided to meet the needs of voters at the polling place.
Lovedahl is confident there will be enough voting machines to accommodate voters at the new location.
The decision to merge was made in 2018, but the board could not take action on it due to a freeze on redrawing precinct lines made in the wake of a lawsuit brought against the state over claims that it racially gerrymandered congressional and legislative district lines to favor Republicans. The first suit was brought in June 2011, and lines have been repeatedly challenged over the course of the decade.
In 2018 elections, 424 residents cast votes at the Sylva North/Dillsboro polling place on Election Day, and 458 voted at the Sylva South Ward.
The change affects 2,804 registered voters from Sylva North/Dillsboro precinct.
With 5,709 registered voters, Sylva Dillsboro Combined Precinct will be Jackson County’s second largest precinct approximately 300 voters behind Cullowhee.
Affected voters in both precincts were sent notices explaining the change.
For more information call the Board of Elections at 586-7538.