New precincts in Phoenixville could be controversial

PHOENIXVILLE — Borough council approved precinct re-draw recommendations made by its redistricting committee last week although one councilman said the new lines would not get the required go-ahead from the Phoenixville Republican Committee to finalize everything.

One of the first provisions for changing or altering voter precincts requires a signed letter from all committee people of both political parties in the borough.

Councilman Karl Bucus doesn’t think such a letter will be acquired from the Republican side.

“These boundaries, as they exist, are not likely to secure such a letter,” Bucus told council at the April 9 meeting.

After the meeting, Bucus elaborated saying the changes the Republican party desired are “not radically different.”

“There’s just a couple places they think are contrary to balance and fairness that they would like to see, like any constituent anywhere,” Bucus said.

He said the adjustments are as little as possibly moving one line two blocks.

Michael Kuznar, the Republican representative on the borough’s redistricting committee, said the decisions based on precinct changes were made based primarily on population.

“We made sure every precinct had at least 2,000 to 2,200 residents in it so they’re all even,” he said in an email to The Mercury.

Although Kuznar said the committee considered the registered voters of both parties, the concern of those under 18 years old and, thus, unregistered to vote, could fluctuate in different ways.

“If we considered just registered voters, with all the young kids who are living in Phoenixville, that would change anyway because hundreds more every year are going to be eligible,” Kuznar said. “If we just do population, it’s less dice-rolling.”

Councilwoman Jen Mayo, who served as chairwoman of the redistrict committee, said political parties weren’t taken into account, that the precincts were solely based on population.

The borough has been frustrated by attempts to reorganize its political boundaries, an initiative which began early last summer. The hope was to reorganize the political wards with a committee, then turn over the necessary adjusting of voter precincts within those wards to Chester County Voter Services.

Wards were successfully redrawn but prove useless in a local election if the precincts aren’t re-done to match.

For 2013, the old ward lines will remain.

It was believed by council and their representation that re-drawing precincts was the responsibility of the county, but a snag was hit and the county said the responsibility laid with the borough.

Confusion was attributed to the revamp of the state-wide borough code last summer.

“We are in new, uncharted territory,” said Andrew Rau, the borough’s solicitor. “It was a learning experience for everyone.”

Plans to have everything re-drawn for equal representation across Phoenixville for the local election this year were put on hold.

Council President Richard Kirkner expressed some frustration at Bucus’ assertion that Phoenixville’s Republicans might not provide the necessary letter.

“Well, what’s the Republican Party of Phoenixville waiting for? 2014?” he asked loudly.

“The problem is not the Phoenixville Republican Party. It’s with this timeline requirement there,” Bucus replied, tapping a paper of the timeline.

Such letters from both parties must be received by Chester County Voter Services 180 days prior to an election.

Brian Peppel, chairman of the Phoenixville Republican Party’s committee, confirmed Thursday has yet to send a letter into voter services.

“We will consider sending such a letter when requested to do so by county voter services,” Peppel said. “We have not had any official communication from them in this regard.”

Mayo, the brand-new head of the Democratic Party of Phoenixville, said they have not yet sent a letter either, as far as she knew.

Among the changes that come with new precinct boundaries were recommendations for new polling places.

The North Three Precinct’s polling place was moved from the Episcopal House’s Community Room to Franklin Commons.

Because the West Ward now encompasses areas where the population-heavy North Ward once existed, the West One Precinct took over the Episcopal House polling place.

Additionally, the West Two Precinct polling place is now the West End Fire Hall. The former spot used for West Two, Phoenixville Area Middle School, now swings over to the East Two Precinct.

The polling place for East One is yet to be determined and could either be placed at the Phoenxiville Area School District Kindergarten Center or First Methodist Church of Phoenixville on the 800 block of South Main Street.

Middle One Precinct’s polling place will remain at the current borough hall, but after the spring primaries, it will move over to the Phoenixville Area Senior Center.

Council approved the changes 8-1, with Bucus the lone “no” vote.

He said he wanted council to “look at the adjusted tweaks and said that down to county with a greater degree of confidence that that letter (from both political parties) could be secured.”

Bucus said he could very easily have voted to approve the changes, which will now be sent on to voter services, but voted against because he thought making the changes now would expedite the process.

Rau said it was possible voter services would possibly make changes themselves, approving a “slightly” different map.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

Story is from www.pottsmerc.com.