Board may dissolve precinct

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Beaufort County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing to garner public input on a proposal to dissolve the Hunter’s Bridge precinct in north-central Beaufort County.

The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at the board’s offices, located at 1308 Highland Drive, Washington.

The board is considering merging Hunter’s Bridge with the Pantego and Woodard’s Pond precincts.

If the board approved this move, voters in Hunter’s Bridge would be divided between the two neighboring precincts, and would vote in one of those two precincts’ polling places.

The board is pondering this move because the Hunter’s Bridge polling place, an old community building, was burned last year in an apparent arson, one in a string of reported arsons that, apparently, weren’t politically motivated.

A suitable replacement for the former polling place hasn’t been found within the existing precinct, explained Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director.

Hopkins said elections officials have been unable to locate a tax-supported building that could double as a voting center.

She added efforts to reserve private buildings for that purpose have also come up short because the owners didn’t want their properties used for voting or the buildings didn’t measure up to legal specifications for polling places.

“We don’t have a polling place in Hunter’s Bridge,” echoed Tom Payne, chairman of the Board of Elections.

A statistical report provided by Hopkins shows Hunter’s Bridge is home to 756 voters — 319 Democrats, 290 Republicans, 145 unaffiliateds and two Libertarians.

“It’s a very small precinct” in comparison to voter-registration numbers in most of the 20 other precincts in the county, Hopkins said. She added that, geographically, Hunter’s Bridge is one of the county’s largest precincts, but is mostly rural and agricultural.

In a session called Monday, the board consulted Surry Everett, chairman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, and Greg Dority, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party.

Everett wondered aloud how much farther Hunter’s Bridge voters would have to drive if their precinct were dissolved.

Those distances could be estimated after further analysis, Hopkins answered, pointing out the distances to new polling places wouldn’t increase that much for some voters.

Everett said he had no objections to the board’s plans.

Dority also offered no objections to the proposal.

For more information on the public hearing, call the Board of Elections at 252-946-2321.