FREEPORT — Councilors unanimously approved updated voting districts Tuesday night, placing equal numbers of registered voters in the town’s four districts and moving split streets to single districts.
“My goal during this process was to move ‘whole’ streets to a new district,” Town Clerk Christine Wolfe said in materials provided to the board. “This is important for maintaining the Central Voter Registration software and to eliminate errors that happen when registering voters who live on split streets.”
Wolfe said while cross-checking maps, streets and district assignments, “we were able to find errors that had occurred over the years in wrongly assigning a District to a particular street along with a few assessing errors.”
A review of the voting district list every five years is required by the Town Charter. Each household affected by the redistricting will be notified by mail before July 15, Wolfe said. The new voting districts will go to the secretary of state’s office for approval, according to Wolfe.
The review began mid-2016. The voting districts now in place will remain until July 31 and not affect residents casting ballots on June 13 for the school budget validation referendum.
The changes that will become effective July 31 are: District 1 registrations remain the same from November 2016 at 1,778 voters; District 2 is reduced from 1,898 registered voters to 1,776; District 3 increases from 1,702 to 1,779 voters; and District 4, from 1,734 to 1,782.
Councilor Leland Arris put a twist on the review of the streets, citing his own casual observation of economical demographics among some districts.
Arris focused on District 4, noting households of lower economic means may be grouped in this area. District 4 is in the northwest part of Freeport.
“I see a grouping of the district with the lowest per capita income becoming more so,” he said.
Arris said he wanted to alert the public to his observation “that we’re becoming less diverse.”
Wolfe and Council Chairwoman Sarah Tracy disagreed with Arris’ assessment.
“To me, a voter is a voter is a voter,” Wolfe said, “whether you live in a trailer or a high-rise.”
Wolfe said Arris could re-examine these issues, if he wanted. His comments stemmed from a brief discussion that fewer people vote on substantial issues affecting the town, namely a school budget. He cited a story in The Forecaster about North Yarmouth, where an 8 percent budget increase was approved by 3 percent of all registered voters.
Encouraging voter participation in town government was the reason for his comments, he said.
“The idea that one of the ramifications if districts are becoming more similar in their economics and social structure, you’re going to have less competition in races,” Arris said.
“We have not done a study of that,” Tracy said. “To me it feels a little bit anecdotal.”
“I understand the concern,” Tracy later said. “Before we get to that conclusion, we need to study it more.”