The Arlington NAACP and City Council members raised concerns this week about an administrative decision to change a longtime early voting location in south Arlington, saying it could discourage voters.
The South Service Center, 1100 SW Green Oaks Blvd., has been an early voting polling location since 2005. This year, city administrators and the Tarrant County Elections Office switched to the St. Joseph Catholic Church parish hall, 1927 SW Green Oaks Blvd, after some city offices were moved to the service center, which reduced the space available for voting.
Council members Robert Rivera and Sheri Capehart, who both represent south Arlington, expressed frustration Tuesday that the polling place was changed without notifying the council.
“That is the primary polling place in south Arlington. For it to have happened behind the scenes and for the elected body to not to know about it, I’m stunned,” Capehart said.
The South Service Center had 1,577 early voters in the May 2014 election, making it the fourth-most-popular early voting location in Tarrant County, and 11,432 early voters in the November election, making it the top early voting site in the county.
The city changes polling sites to address parking or space issues, said Jennifer Wichmann, Arlington’s management resources director.
“There have been, particularly with some November elections, long lines of voters and cars coming out in the streets,” Wichmann said. “We made the changes for some logistical reasons that can be supported, but I don’t think we did it in the right way in terms of getting community input.”
Residents who spoke to the council Tuesday night said changing the polling location was a mistake and would suppress the vote. Alissa Simmons, NAACP Arlington Branch president, asked the council to keep the long-established early voting site.
“It is clear that no matter the political affiliation, neighborhood or ethnicity, your constituents are upset, if not angry,” Simmons said. “This impending change would have been perfect fodder for public input at a public hearing.”
Another resident said changing the early voting location for south Arlington, which has a large minority population, “gives the impression it was done for political purposes” to guarantee that the incumbents were re-elected.
Frank Phillips, Tarrant County election administrator, explained to the council that under state law, it is too late to switch the polling place back.
The city will mail a notice of the change to all registered voter households south of Interstate 20 next week, Wichmann said.
Rivera told Simmons that the council members were “equally offended” and “equally upset” about the change.
“There was no outreach to the neighborhoods about what was going to happen. There was no public discussion. This was done in a vacuum and it should not have been,” Rivera said. “We should do everything possible to encourage voting and make sure our citizens have a hand in the direction of our city.”
The county’s request to use the South Service Center for the May election was rejected by the center’s manager because the north office had been consolidated into the site, taking up room that had previously been available, Phillips said.
Phillips said the church has significantly more parking space and room inside than the South Service Center. The church is about a half-mile from the service center, Phillips said.
“We look for sites that are easy to get to, that are preferably on a main road,” Phillips said.
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, wrote in a letter to City Council last week that the change could negatively affect constituents of House District 101.
“As a state legislator, I try my best to avoid involving myself in city business; however, this matter has the potential to be precedent-setting, affecting the location of early voting sites not only in the May election, but in all elections going forward. Ensuring our constituents can exercise their right to vote without confusion or undue inconvenience must be a priority for all of us in public office,” Turner wrote.
“For many who live and work in and around Southeast Arlington, venturing across Cooper is something many of my constituents try to avoid unless absolutely necessary, given the high volume of traffic the road carries.”
Wichmann said the city will work with stakeholders to “see whether going forward if that is the right early voting location.”
“We’re open to bringing it back,” Wichmann said.
Early voting for the May 9 election runs from April 27 to May 5. Residents in precincts 2304, 2356, 2519 and 2553 will vote at the South Service Center on Election Day.
The city also changed an Election Day voting site. The Northeast Branch Library voting location has been moved to the Elzie Odom Athletic Center, 1601 NE Green Oaks Blvd.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639
Early voting schedule:
April 27-30, May 1: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
May 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
May 3: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m..
May 4-5: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For information go to www.tarrantcounty.com/evote.
The Arlington council took the first step Tuesday to help make a proposed $1.2 billion expansion of the General Motors assembly plant a reality.
Members unanimously approved creating a reinvestment zone that would allow the city to offer tax incentives to GM. A second vote to make the zone official is set in two weeks.
General Motors’ proposal would expand the assembly plant by 1.2 million square feet over three years and add a projected 589 permanent jobs, according to a staff report.
A GM spokeswoman has said that an official announcement won’t be made for a couple of months but that the company is “developing a business case for a potential future investment at Arlington Assembly.”
The council could vote on incentives as soon as April 28. Arlington is proposing granting a 10-year, 80 percent abatement of real and business personal property taxes, as well as waiving permit and development fees, according to a city staff report.