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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Polling place outside precinct, within mile
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The Virginia Museum of Natural History building is shown on Aug. 21, 2008. Pending U.S. Department of Justice approval, it will become a polling place for the city’s Precinct 3. (Bulletin file photo)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The new polling place for Martinsville's Precinct 3 at the Virginia Museum of Natural History on Starling Avenue is not actually in that precinct.

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday adopted on first reading an ordinance establishing changes in the city's voting precincts.

The ordinance states that the polling place for Precinct 3 has moved from the museum's former location at 1001 Douglas Ave. to the museum's new location at 21 Starling Ave.

While the new museum building is not in the precinct, it is within a mile of the precinct's boundaries, and that is allowed under state code, city voter Registrar Ercell Cowan said Wednesday.

Cowan did not immediately know exactly how far outside the precinct the new museum building is. She said the distance was measured by Martinsville Electoral Board member Ray Carr, and he determined the building is within a mile of the precinct boundaries.

Carr is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

City officials said the museum offered its new facility for the polling place, and they could not find another suitable location for it.

The museum currently is using its Douglas Avenue building mainly for storage, and it no longer is open to the public, so it no longer can be used for voting.

During Thursday's council meeting, the Rev. Tyler Millner, pastor of Morning Star Holy Church in Axton, asked why the city did not think it appropriate to use a church as the new polling place for Precinct 3.

Mayor Kathy Lawson said some localities use churches for polling places.

Jeff Adkins, chairman of the city electoral board, said officials did not find a church in Precinct 3 that met all of the city's needs for polling places.

One such need, officials said, is easy access for people with disabilities.

Also, City Attorney Eric Monday said he has "deep-seated concerns" about voters casting ballots in churches due to issues pertaining to the separation of church and state.

Cowan said the new museum building will be a better polling place than the old one because it has better traffic flow and easy access to the disabled.

Other changes mentioned in the ordinance involve the names of buildings used for polling places.

Under the ordinance, the polling place for Precinct 1 at 605 Fourth St. is renamed "Martinsville City Housing Office" to reflect the building's existing use. It used to be the Piedmont Regional Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Similarly, the polling place for Precinct 5 at 746 Indian Trail is renamed "Martinsville City Schools Administrative Offices" to reflect the building's current use. It previously was Druid Hills School.

During its Aug. 25 session, city council will consider adopting the ordinance on second reading to make it official.

The U.S. Department of Justice must give its approval to the polling place location and name changes. Cowan said she anticipates no problems.


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