Out of bounds

rpulley@lsjournal.comNovember 15, 2013 

Redistricting and lawsuits combined to help create an election blip in Jackson County that prevented a small number of residents from voting in a water district election.

In the Nov. 5 election, a small Lee’s Summit subdivision, Remington by the Park, didn’t get to vote on a $3 million bond issue proposed by Jackson County Public Water Supply District No. 13, even though most of the 12-lot subdivision is in the district, election officials said Nov. 13.

There were 16 registered voters in that cul-de-sac. Only five voted, but couldn’t voice their opinion on the bonds because of the omission.

The difference isn’t enough to affect the outcome, which was 735 yes to 438 no.

Lee’s Summit Councilman Bob Johnson, one of the affected voters, said he’d contacted the water district and the issue has been resolved. He is definitely within the district.

One other water district customer couldn’t vote, Norman Marvel, whose home at is on the border at 4127 NW Sweet Water Circle, with the meter inside the district and his living quarters outside.

The election problems surfaced when Marvel’s wife noticed the question was not on the election machine where she voted and he started asking questions.

While that situation is perturbing to Marvel, it’s not unheard of. It happens to other Jackson County residents in school districts, fire districts and congressional districts, all of the borders sometimes run through a house or property, with the owner on the wrong side where they might want to vote.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders’ home is split between the Fifth and Sixth Congressional districts, said Tammy Brown, Republican director for the Jackson County Election Board.

Such mapping problems leaves the election board with either the expensive proposition of going to court or making judgment calls by deciding where the greatest proportion of their house is in relation to the boundary, Brown said.

Brown said a water district in Raytown has the opposite problem.

There, the City of Raytown provides water to many people who also live in a water district. The people who are customers of Raytown city water can vote on water district issues, although some people think that’s unfair because they don’t buy water from the district.

However, that’s how the law works, persons vote where they live, Brown said.

The exact cause of the error affecting the other voters is unknown, Brown said.

Brown said that prior to 2010 redistricting, the election board’s maps seem to be correct. But in that census year there was a court battle regarding congressional districts and the mapping may have gotten off track then, she said.

The election board got help from Jackson County’s mapping department to update its maps. Brown guesses that at some point a county employee saw that only three houses on Remington Court were outside the district while the rest on that cul-de-sac were, and so took the others out of the district as well. But, in fact, the three adjacent lots are the only ones that officially aren’t in the district.

That odd situation is a hold over from a 2002 court settlement when Water District 13 sued Lee’s Summit for encroaching on its territory. In the settlement, the water district detached part of its territory, including the three lots on Remington Court because they already had Lee’s Summit water. However, the water district retained the rest of the 12-lot subdivision.

The error didn’t show up until now, Brown said.

Water districts, by law, don’t have to hold elections for directors if races are uncontested so they can go years without being on a ballots, she said.

“We do the best we can, but that was a street that just got missed,” Brown said. “We don’t know until we have an astute voter point it out.”

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