Petition drive is nearing its goal

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AIKEN --- Making the communities of Graniteville, Vaucluse and Warrenville one bona fide city is going up for a vote, organizers predicted Monday.

Volunteers canvassing neighborhoods have gotten hundreds of signatures on a petition that could put the matter on a ballot -- far more than the 585 required, said Tina Bevington, a member of the incorporation committee that's spearheading the drive.

Although elections officials won't begin verifying the signatures until Saturday, Ms. Bevington said she is sure the required number of signatures has already been procured -- though that's not stopping volunteers from going out and getting more.

"I'm confident we've got the 15 percent," she said.

If she's right, then a vote on incorporation could be just a few months away.

Organizers are still working on the application that must be submitted to the state. They also have to meet with the secretary of state and get the issue passed through a legislative committee.

If it's approved at the state level, Ms. Bevington said, they will have 90 days to hold the election, working with the U.S. Justice Department to make sure the vote is fair.

"We hope to have it in the springtime," she said.

Organizers have been working for months on the incorporation -- arguing that making the three communities would give residents living there a stronger say in what happens.

They've devised a possible budget that, if passed by the council elected by the new city voters, would call for homeowners to pay a few dollars a year in property taxes.

The proposed boundaries hold just over 7,000 people, although following the census tracts as required meant cutting Vaucluse in half.

At least 15 percent of the registered voters in the proposed town must sign the petition calling for an incorporation vote -- 585 of 3,899 voters.

The number of signatures was originally estimated to be lower than that, but Ms. Bevington said elections officials updated the list, which included more registered voters.

They plan to turn the signatures over to Stuart Bedenbaugh, the executive director of the Aiken County Registration and Elections Office, on Saturday, after the Senate and local elections have been finalized.

Mr. Bedenbaugh said it will take his staff about three days to verify the signatures.

Typically, he said, petition workers should get 15 to 20 percent more signatures than they need to allow for people who aren't in the correct area or aren't registered voters.

Ms. Bevington said that although organizers are confident they have enough signatures, volunteers are still circulating the petitions and walking through neighborhoods.

"Even though we have the signatures, we don't want anyone to feel left out and excluded from what we think is a historic event," she said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com


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