A Dauphin County official made a pitch on Tuesday night to change and streamline Harrisburg’s ward map, a plan that would slash the number of wards in the city by two-thirds.
Jerry Feaser, the county’s director of the Bureau of Registration and Elections, briefed City Council on a proposal to cut the number of city wards from 15 to five.
He cited several factors for the proposed change, including population shifts that have created uneven voter distributions in the city and an effort to ensure that polling places are compliant with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I am here to respectfully ask that the city and the Dauphin County Bureau of Registration and Elections work together on a plan to make improvements to the voting districts that comprise the City of Harrisburg,” he said.
Under the county’s plan, cutting the number of wards also would reduce the number of voting precincts in the city, which now stands at 28. Instead, each of the five wards would have five precincts, for a total of 25.
Over four decades, Feaser said, 42 election districts were whittled down to the current 28, as populations kept changing and shifting.
“We have arrived at a situation where some of the district lines just don’t make sense,” he said.
For examples, Feaser cited the fact that busy State Street bisects Ward 8 and that Hall Manor sits in two different wards.
He further said that the five new wards then could be used by the Court of Common Pleas to create new magisterial district judge boundaries.
Feaser’s presentation was one step in what could be a drawn-out process.
City Council would need to approve the appointment of a five-member commission, which would firm up a new map that may or may not comport with the county’s current proposal. Both council and the county commissioners then would need to approve the map. Lastly, it would go before voters for their approval.
Feaser emphasized that his plan was just “a starting point.”
“The creation of ward lines is totally within the authority of the city,” he said.
Feaser said that a plan probably would not finalized and ready for a vote by residents until the November 2021 general election. It made sense, he said, to wait for the results of next year’s U.S. census, which could significantly alter the population count and the distribution of residents within the city. Therefore, the first use of the new ward map wouldn’t take place until 2022, at the earliest.
“There really is time to absorb this and think about it,” said city Solicitor Neil Grover.
Even if the ward map isn’t changed, Feaser told council that his office will need to reconsider where some residents cast their votes, as a number current polling stations cannot be made ADA compliant and/or because several buildings may not be available any longer for voting.