City, Dems Seek To Quash New Polling Places

Posted: July 01, 1987

City election officials have joined the Democratic Party in seeking to delay a plan that would change polling places for thousands of voters in the November mayoral election.

The plan, ordered by Common Pleas Judge Armand Della Porta, redraws the boundaries of 1,075 of the city's 1,795 election divisions, eliminating 115 divisions in the process.

It also calls for retaining most polling places in the affected divisions, which have about 650,000 voters. Neither the judge nor election officials could say how many voters would be required to use a new polling place.

"Every voter who is affected is going to be notified," Della Porta promised yesterday in an interview.

Notices of a change will be mailed to all voters in October, within a month of the Nov. 3 election, he said. The judge has been hearing testimony and re- drawing division lines for two years in response to a 1979 lawsuit filed by the Committee of Seventy.

The Committee of Seventy, a private group that monitors local government and elections, said it sued to save taxpayers money and streamline the election process.

More than 100 workers in the City Commission, which oversees elections, have been at work since June 13, including nights and weekends, to rearrange registration binders and set up the new divisions.

City Commission officials said they don't object to the "merits" of the plan. But they said they doubt if the staff can meet Della Porta's Sept. 1 deadline to complete the realignment.

Democratic City Committee has a different reason to appeal: It wants to scuttle the entire plan.

Isadore A. Shrager, the Democrats' lawyer, has appealed to Commonwealth Court to throw out the realignment plan. And he wants Della Porta to order the realignment work halted until the party's appeal is heard.

Shrager said Della Porta "tried to do the best job he could," but based his plan on old registration figures and failed to alert all voters on how the proposed changes might affect them.

Shrager said party officials also believe there will be chaos if polling places and neighborhood election boards are changed just before the mayoral election.

"You'll have so much confusion," Shrager said. "People will go to the wrong polling place. Election boards won't know what they're doing. People are going to want to vote in the mayoral election, and a whole lot of people will be disenfranchised."

Della Porta has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to hear the appeals from the City Commission and Democratic City Committee to stop work on the realignment. If he turns down their requests, appeals to a higher state court are likely.

The realignment leaves intact all congressional, City Council and state legislative districts. Also untouched, because of state law, are boundaries of the city's 66 wards, even though some wards have only about 6,000 voters while others have nearly 30,000.

The spread among election divisions is even wider - dozens of divisions have fewer than 200 voters and several have more than 1,300 - and there has been no citywide redrawing of the electoral map.

Della Porta, who personally worked to draw new lines, said he aimed to create divisions with 550 to 900 voters. Because of certain barriers like highways, creeks, cemeteries or wooded areas, he said, 58 divisions remain larger or smaller than the ideal.

Wiping out 115 divisions would save the city about $100,000 each year in salaries to election-day officials, polling place rentals and transportation and maintenance of voting machines, according to the Committee of Seventy.

Frederick L. Voigt, the committee's executive secretary, said yesterday the purpose of the suit is "very simple. It's equity. One man, one vote." He charged that Democratic City Committee and other politicians have been stalling on realignment for years.

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