Monday, July 01, 2013

U.S. Justice Department drops by to investigate Augusta County

Just in time for Independence Day, Uncle Sam is taking a stroll around Augusta County's 26 voting precincts today and tomorrow with the three members of the local electoral board. Actually, he's sending one of his lawyers and an architect from the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Uh-oh. Almost sounds like being called to the principal's office.

Originally scheduled for June, the trip was delayed until this week, and Augusta Electoral Board chairman Ruth Talmage seemed unhappy even though she had originally requested the visit be held off until after the June Democratic Primary:
"Voters ought not to have to worry with some strange person from Washington watching and asking questions," Talmage said.
She also said, "The message is that they (Justice) are welcome to come, but not on election day.''

An email from the county's attorney closed the door on the June visit:
An email response sent to Justice on Wednesday through Augusta County Attorney Patrick Morgan said the electoral board "has concluded that permitting such inspections is not in the best interest of Augusta County, at this time. Therefore, I regret to inform you that the board of elections will not authorize you to inspect the polling places as previously planned."
It's rainy and drippy out there today so hope they've all got their umbrellas and golashes as they traverse the second-largest county in Virginia.

As former magisterial district chairman in Pastures District located west of Staunton, I have personal knowledge of the time it takes to travel its five precincts, the most of any district in the county. Pastures' borders touch Staunton City and extend to Bath and Highland counties with the George Washington National Forest in between. It's a gorgeous district but you'd better be driving your reliable vehicle because it will rack up the mileage.

That does not include the rest of Augusta that runs as far north as Rockingham County, south to Rockbridge County, and east to the tiptop of the Blue Ridge Mountains as it borders Nelson and Albemarle counties.

The visit is in response to a complaint filed by Churchville resident Steve Morris who questioned a North River precinct located in the Churchville Fire Station in Pastures District, and handicap accessibility to that precinct. Morris ran an unsuccessful bid as supervisor in 2011.

The electoral board has defended the Churchville Fire Station precinct location:
Talmage said both the precinct location and handicap access are appropriate. Talmage said Virginia law allows for a polling place within one mile of the border of a precinct boundary, and said North River lacks such a needed facility. She said the fire station's ramp and access door offer sufficient access.
Talmadge complained in the Waynesboro News-Virginian that the tour would take "an unnecessary amount of time'' on Monday and Tuesday.

Hmm. It's not wise to tweak Uncle Sam's nose.

Reporter Bob Stuart reported:
[Talmage] said the electoral board had asked to work with Justice on a schedule for touring the county precincts, but said the federal agency has not been cooperative.
I guess once the June date was postponed, Uncle Sam decided to get his work done before his holiday, and this week was it. Maybe the federal agents will stick around for a Smalltown USA Fourth of July.

Update: Justice begins investigation in Augusta County by Bob Stuart

No comments: