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Residents can finally vote in their own school district



Published: Wed, October 27, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



The change could affect three school issues on Tuesday's ballot.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- Robert and Theresa Ferguson say they were taken aback when they first learned that though they lived in the Austintown school district, they couldn't vote on Austintown school issues.

The Fergusons, of Clearfield Drive, said that when they went to vote, a poll worker told them they lived in the Weathersfield school district and they could vote only on Weathersfield school issues or countywide school issues in Trumbull County.

"I'm paying taxes to Austintown. Don't tell me I'm voting Weathersfield. That's absurd," Robert said.

He wasn't alone in his frustration. The Fergusons were among 31 voters who live on Clearfield and Winslow drives in Austintown that were incorrectly included in a precinct in the Weathersfield school district for at least the last three to four years.

"My daughter goes to Austintown Middle School. I want to contribute to her school," said Clearfield Drive resident Bea Williamson, who said she also was told she could vote only on Weathersfield school issues.

Late last week, Mahoning County Board of Elections officials moved 22 voters who live on Clearfield Drive into a precinct in the Austintown school district. The change occurred after Austintown Superintendent Stan Watson went to the board office and informed officials about the discrepancy.

The remaining nine voters who live on Winslow Drive were moved into a precinct that votes on Austintown school issues Tuesday.

What happened

Mike Sciortino, director of the board of elections, said the voters could have been placed in the wrong precinct by of a computer error when precincts were redrawn after the 2000 Census. It could not be confirmed how long the residents had not been permitted to vote for Austintown schools, but most of them lived in new homes that were built in the past three or four years.

The new polling place for residents that have changed precincts will be the Four Mile Run Christian Church on Four Mile Run Road; in the past, they had voted at Austintown fire station No. 1 on state Route 46. Sciortino said residents should receive notification in the mail of the change this week.

That notification is expected to arrive after the residents receive the bright-yellow flier the board has sent to all county residents informing them of their polling place.

Sciortino noted that board officials typically try to ensure that all registered voters in the county are in the correct precincts before each election. That can be difficult, he said.

Sciortino noted that because some school district borders cross municipal, township and even county borders, residents can live in communities like Austintown and Youngstown and vote on issues for Trumbull County school districts.

A closer look

The Weathersfield school district includes a section of Austintown between County Line Road and Webb Road. To the west, the district border is the intersection of Webb and County Line roads; to the east, the border runs between houses in the Still Meadows and Mulberry Run developments, which include Clearfield and Winslow drives.

Several Clearfield and Winslow drive residents said they have been snubbed in the past when they told board of elections workers that they should be voting for Austintown school issues. Winslow Drive resident Gail Cherney said when she asked what she could do to make sure she voted on an Austintown school issues, a board worker responded, "move."

Andy Williamson, Bea's husband, said a board worker told him he'd look into the discrepancy and took his name and phone number.

"That's all I heard from him," Andy Williamson said.

Moving the 31 voters into a new precinct could affect three school tax issues on Tuesday's ballot: a 3.9-mill, 5-year levy for the Austintown schools; a 5.5-mill, 5-year new levy for the Weathersfield schools; and a 2.4-mill, 10-year renewal levy for the Trumbull County Career and Technical Center.

Michael Hanshaw, superintendent of the Weathersfield schools, added that if the residents hadn't been moved to another precinct and the levy for his district had failed by a small margin Tuesday, he would have sought a recount.

Watson, the Austintown superintendent, questioned why the board of elections had not addressed the problem sooner.

"Mistakes are made, but a three- or four-year-long mistake where people are directed to the wrong place or wrong information is a cause for concern," he said. "How could this be? How could this go on?"




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