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The Voice of the Black Community

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SE Raleigh voters will have a new polling place
 
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2019
by Lori D.R. Wiggins, Correspondent

RALEIGH – Voters headed to the polls to choose Raleigh’s next mayor and seven-member city council will have to adjust to this news: For the first time in years, Chavis Community Center will not be an early-voting or election day polling site.

Here’s why: The hotly-debated and long-awaited construction on the historical John Chavis Memorial Park begins this week, making it infeasible, election officials said, to send voters to Chavis during the September 18 - October 4 early-voting period, or for the October 8 municipal election.

“We were disappointed that Chavis was not one of the sites chosen for the municipal election and early voting,” said Jerome Brown, chairman of the Wake County Voter Education Coalition. “The bigger issue is the confusion that is going to be caused. Lots will show up at Chavis. The timing of it stinks, but it’s pretty locked in.”

The decision was made by the Wake County Board of Elections, which makes its determination based on information gathered by staffers, said Lauren Nelson, the early voting coordinator for Wake County. Residents will be redirected to Chavis’ replacement, Roberts Park Community Center on Martin Street.

Construction was set to begin at the historic John Chavis Memorial Park on August 21, closing some park facilities to the public, including the north parking lot, playground, pool, and tennis courts. Remaining open to the public are the community center, outdoor track, fields, the Allan Herschell Carousel, greenway trail, picnic shelters, and areas located west of the stream.

Even though the community center, where voting takes place will be open, the parking lot will be unavailable, Nelson said. “We are nervous that, with construction going on, it will be dangerous to voters, as well,” she added.

The official groundbreaking celebration for park improvements will be September 6 at 3 p.m. The nearly 29-acre park has been a community anchor of predominantly black Southeast Raleigh neighborhoods since it opened in 1937 as the only park in the state open to black people during segregation. Over the years, residents have pushed to preserve the park’s historical integrity and culture amid what has been seen as a counterpush to replace the old with the new.

It isn’t the first time voting at Chavis was in jeopardy. In 2012, a Republican-led election board sought to reduce the number of early-voting sites, placing Chavis on the chopping block. The community fought back and the number of sites was increased. Chavis became one of the larger sites and grew to attract record numbers of voters.

In the November 2018 general election, for example, 21,720 voters cast early ballots over 18 days at Chavis, Nelson said. Comparatively, in the November 2016 presidential election, there were 24,908 votes cast early at Chavis. 

The change is listed online. The board also informed the city council, interested in having an early-voting site in each council district, with an explanation of the change, Nelson said.

Brown said if something isn’t done to better inform all voters of the change, including those who don’t use the internet, he fears some could be deterred from casting ballots at all.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be a good turnout, regardless,” he said. “But if (voters) take the bus, walk up that hill and are told they can’t vote there this time, some people probably will decide to sit this one out. It’s just a toss-up as to whether they will follow through.”

Craig Freeman suspects that’s intentional. Otherwise, he said, why shut down a location that has had record-setting voter turnout to begin construction on park improvements first promised about five years ago?

“It was done intentionally to suppress the black vote,” said Freeman, a voter education volunteer. “Chavis is one of the key ingredients to the turnout of black voters in Wake County.” White voters, too, he said, noting more diversity in both voters and volunteers as a result of gentrification in the area.

Calling the decision to leave Chavis off the list “ridiculous,” Freeman, also questioning why the Chavis pool was closed all summer for fall construction, said community involvement and organization is the key ingredient to avoid similar situations happening again.

“We can’t rumble and gripe after the fact,” said Freeman, also a member of Chavis Circle of Friends, a group dedicated to community advocacy and philanthropy. For starters, he said, more people need to be present at meetings where decisions are being made or at least talked about.  “Get organized and get busy,” he said. “It’s not ever going to stop unless we stop it. Solidarity means victory.”

Longtime Southeast Raleigh resident Veronica Scott said she understands the inconvenience when a place like Chavis that is historic, centrally located and easily accessible is put on hold, but she also understands the disappointment in the delay in park improvements when work at Dorothea Dix and Moore Square were swift. Now, she said, the onus doubles on the community  to get the vote – and the word – out, simultaneously.

“It’s a luck-of-the-draw situation, as far as the timing of it,” she said. “But it may have an influence on voter turnout, so it’s imperative that (we) find a way of getting the word out to let people know there’s been a change in location now, not later.” 

 

Comments

Excellent,precise, & very informative.
Posted on August 30, 2019
 
Thanks Lori for covering this issue. I appreciate the follow through.
Posted on August 23, 2019
 

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