SO BIG: Court Orders Murrysville, PA to Reduce Overcrowded Precincts

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Murrysville, PA will have to subdivide its voting precincts after a court agreed that they far exceed state guideline for maximum number of voters, which has led to long lines at the polls. The Tribune-Review has more:

When the 2020 election rolls around, more than 7,000 Murrysville residents won’t have to wait nearly as long to cast ballots.

A county judge on Friday signed off on a petition brought by Murrysville’s two major political committees, which seeks to break up two massively oversized voting precincts.

Lines at the Newlonsburg and Sardis precincts forced voters to wait hours in the 2016 general election and the 2018 midterms.

Both precincts contain more than 3,600 registered voters. That is three times the maximum size of a voter precinct, according to Pennsylvania election law. Precincts are not to exceed 1,200 “without good cause shown,” the law reads.

The issue isn’t limited just to Murrysville:

Across the county, voter rolls at 15 percent of precincts exceed the state’s 1,200-voter threshold, a Tribune-Review analysis showed in December 2018. All precincts in Murrysville are over the threshold.

Along with Newlonsburg and Sardis, Unity Township’s Dennison precinct is the only other in the county to have more than 3,000 registered voters. It has 3,400…

“We’ll have to do an investigation based on the paperwork we got (Friday),” said Shari Wright, the county’s deputy elections director. “At this point, that won’t happen until after the (primary) election.”

The challenge going forward is to find a balance between reducing precinct size and having the resources to staff them on Election Day:

Tom Wubben, chairman of the Murrysville Export Republican Committee, said Wright’s investigation could conclude that simply dividing each precinct would not be sufficient.

“She thinks we may need four new precincts instead of two to get closer to that 1,200 number,” Wubben said. “We’re very satisfied with just two, because that would at least cut each in half.”

Maury Fey, a Murrysville resident who helped prepare the petition, said that while there are other municipal precincts whose voter numbers are higher than 1,200, “they’re much less than 3,600 and they don’t experience any problems at all.”

Wubben added that with the difficulty elections officials have had in finding poll workers in recent years, two new precincts would be ideal “because there’d be a better chance of finding people to staff them.”

The next step is to identify new polling locations so that the subdivision can occur:

Sardis Fire Hall on Saltsburg Road and Emmanuel United Reformed Church of Christ on Hills Church Road were identified as potential new precincts at a recent meeting among Wubben, Fey, Murrysville Export Democratic Committee Chair Susan Stewart-Bayne and Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison.

“We looked at Murrysville’s street maps, which are updated much more regularly than the county’s, looked at voter rolls and figured out a way to split them up so that they’re about 1,800 voters each,” Wubben said.

That number still exceeds the state threshold, but both Wubben and Fey said they felt it would alleviate most of the issues Newlonsburg and Sardis voters have experienced.

Even as more states move to expanded early, absentee and vote-by-mail voting, there are still places like Murrysvile where (as in the rest of Pennsylvania) such options largely don’t exist. In those communities, finding enough places to vote and assigning the right number of voters to those places is a critical task. If nothing else, Murrysville voters should face much shorter wait times in 2020 and beyond. Stay tuned …

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