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Some voters, candidates say voting location change is a political issue

6:29 PM, Jul 17, 2012   |    comments
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Tuesday, some Knox County Democratic voters and candidates gathered to denounce the change of a voting location in North Knoxville.

As we've reported, the 16th precinct polls have combined into a joint location at the Larry Cox Senior Center. Part of the precinct used to vote at Belle Morris Elementary School.

The election commission says it made the change after receiving complaints the school isn't handicap accessible. The handicap ramp is in a different area of the school than the polling site.

Some critics of the closure claim the switch is a partisan move aimed at reducing the number of votes cast in a district that has favored Democrats. They're also concerned the new combined location won't offer enough parking.

Others at Tuesday's press conference complained they didn't have a say in moving the long-time voting location.

"The community I think is very attached to Belle Morris. The school is like a hub for the community," said Steve Eldridge, chair of Precinct 16S.

"In a time when everybody wants to criticize the government, you know, is it something they can do? Yes. Shouldn't they consider the community? I mean, just because you can do it, doesn't mena that you should. And this affects the entire community. It's not partision; I've heard from Republicans and I've heard from Democrats, and let them have a say in what happens in their community," said Gloria Johnson, State House 13 candidate.

Election Administrator Cliff Rodgers says other election commissioners toured the school with him, and agreed it failed to meet their expectations for serving voters with handicaps.

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Some Knox County Democratic voters and candidates say a voting location change is a political issue, not an accessibility one.

The 16th precinct polls have been combined into a joint location at the Larry Cox Senior Center. Part of that precinct used to vote at Belle Morris Elementary School.

Knox county Election Commissioner Clifford Rodgers told us his office got several complaints the school is not handicap accessible.

One Democratic leader says that simply is not true.

"The entrance that you go into that building is on one side of the school, and you basically walk about one block and a half to get to the end of the building, which is the only place that we can vote in that school building. And while there was parking and stair steps next to that place, you certainly couldn't access it if you were on a walker or if you were in a wheelchair," said Rodgers.

"If you just walk up to the front of the school, you will see right away there's a ramp that's been there for years, so that can't be their only reason," said Mary Wilson with the Central City Democrats.

Rodgers says other election commissioners toured Belle Morris Elementary with him and agree it was not accessible.

Mary Wilson says moving the polling place is disenfranchising Democratic voters.

State House candidate Gloria Johnson and other community leaders plan to denounce the voting change at Belle Morris Elementary Tuesday.

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