August 17, 2021 |
OPELOUSAS — St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard is speaking out about a reduction in polling precincts in the parish and exploring ways to remedy the situation.
In 2019, the state asked local governments to look at consolidating precincts to save money on costly elections. The request suggested closing any precincts with less than 300 voters and send those voters to other precincts. St. Landry Parish Council moved forward with the proposal after parish demographer Mike Hefner recommended cutting 39 precincts. They approved an ordinance that reduced the number of voting precincts in the parish from 92 to 53. That ordinance went into effect in March 2020, and parish citizens now feel the precinct reduction impact.
“I don’t believe the council intended to put up obstacles for folks to vote,” said Bellard. “At the encouragement of state officials, the council were looking for ways to save the taxpayers money when it came to hosting elections.”
Elections can be costly to operate. Large elections can run over $100,000 each time one is held.
“We want to fix this. We want to make it easier for our citizens to vote,” said Bellard. “We’ve already begun taking steps to remedy the situation with Ordinance 2021-007 that added 13 more precincts by dividing certain precincts by alphabetical order.”
That ordinance was adopted in July with a majority support of the parish council. It allowed the parish to split certain precincts in two depending on the last name of the voter. The move brought the total number of precincts to 66.
“It’s a small step, but it is all we can do at this time,” said Bellard. “After speaking with state officials, we learned we wouldn’t be able to add back the precincts lost until 2022 or 2023. We will be working to return the total precinct count in the parish to 92.”
Bellard said the parish is looking into other options in the meantime. One option is expanding early voting locations to other municipalities in the parish. Currently, early voting polls are only offered in Opelousas and Eunice.
“This will give our citizens more access to the voting booth until we can get the number of precincts back up to 92,” said Bellard.