Vote centers up for debate

Election board members debate internally, with public



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Randy Paul, a retired teacher and voter rights activist, speaks Tuesday at the Monroe County Election Board meeting. Paul is against the current proposal for vote centers because he said it does not address accessibility issues for those with disabilities. Mary Kenney Buy Photos



The board, staffed by Judith Smith-Ille, Jan Ellis and Monroe County Clerk Linda Robbins, discussed a motion to stop using voter precincts and instead open vote centers for the 2012 elections.

Smith-Ille, the lone Republican on the board, questioned the timing of the proposal.
“I don’t want you to think I’m against vote centers. I’m not. I just don’t think 2012 is the year to do them,” Smith-Ille said.

There are currently 90 voting precincts in Monroe County, Robbins said. There would be far fewer vote centers, if they were implemented, which would make the voting and vote counting processes easier, she said.

Ellis agreed it is much easier to find a few accessible locations for vote centers than to find 90 buildings in compliance with accessibility regulations. She said she and Robbins have done a great deal of research that supports switching to vote centers.

“Wherever there needs to be changes made, we’ve noted those. We know how to make them completely accessible,” Ellis said. “Vote centers are the way of progress.”

Ellis said vote centers are necessary for the 2012 presidential elections because processing the large volume of votes will be more efficient.

Smith-Ille proposed the continued study of implementing vote centers in February, she said. Since then she has said she wouldn’t vote to switch to the centers if they weren’t in compliance with accessibility requirements for the disabled and elderly.

Richard Linnemeier, a Bloomington resident, said he did not understand Smith-Ille’s concerns.

“I don’t understand why the vote centers will be inherently less accessible than the precincts,” Linnemeier said. “It seems like you’re trying to suppress the Democratic vote in Monroe County. It’s better for Republicans if people don’t vote.”

Prior to the meeting, Smith-Ille prepared a report titled “Monroe County Vote Center Plan: Fact Check,” which challenged many statements in the vote center proposal.
For example, the vote center plan states that vote centers increase voter turnout and reduce costs.

Smith-Ille’s report challenged these assertions with studies by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute and the Indiana Secretary of State that said it is too soon to tell if vote centers do either of these things.

Ellis replied to these criticisms by saying it is a working plan.

Randy Paul, a retired teacher and voter access activist, said he is in favor of vote
centers.

“I came out for vote centers two years ago,” Paul said. “But if I was on the election board, I wouldn’t vote for it.”

Paul said the current proposal was too rushed and poorly executed to make vote centers effective.

“From June until now, they spent less than four months planning this program. In Tippecanoe County, it took them 14 months to develop that program,” Paul said. “Their plan is 144 pages long, and ours is 26.”

Ellis said the length of the report does not reflect its quality. Smith-Ille did not agree with her.

According to the vote center proposal, the centers would meet accessibility
requirements.

However, Smith-Ille’s report stated several of the selected sites for the centers would not meet requirements of the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

Her report stated that several of the problematic sites are on IU’s campus. These sites do not provide parking close enough to the sites to be in compliance with HAVA, Smith-Ille said.

Robbins said she is concerned if the centers aren’t implemented now, they never will be. She said machines will be purchased this year,  and if they are not purchased with centers in mind, it will be difficult to implement the centers in the future.

“The county clerk said, ‘If we don’t get them now, we’ll never get them.’ That’s just a sales pitch,” Paul said. “There’s this insanity about voting machines. There’s a way out of this.”

Paul said the proposal for vote centers should be sent back to the committee. The committee that prepares the report should be equally divided among Republicans, Democrats and third party representatives.

After adequate time, Paul said, the proposal could be picked up again. He suggested proposing the centers in 2013 to be implemented in the 2014 midterm elections.

“We could set it up in 2013 to have it in 2014,” Paul said. “The only drawback is we won’t have them for 2012, but you can get those through leasing.”

Paul said the push for vote centers is primarily concerned with money.

The order for voting machines for the centers would have to be placed by November 2011 to be available for the 2012 elections, Paul said.

Paul said voting machines were purchased for last year’s midterm elections. Those machines have since broken, Paul said, and there are no others.

Robbins discussed leasing machines for this year’s elections.

“Taxpayers have paid for machines they no longer have. This whole thing is being driven by money right now,” Paul said. “It all has to do with voting machines.”

Paul has worked to change voting practices in Monroe County for five years. Paul said Monroe County is not in compliance with the HAVA because individuals with disabilities cannot easily access many of the buildings used for voting.

Paul filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., last spring to force Monroe County into compliance.

This was addressed in Tuesday’s meeting. Robbins discussed Paul’s assertion that some of the current voting sites are schools without ample parking for the handicapped. She said this could be fixed, and there are plans to address this with those schools.

“Our voting sites are not accessible for people with disabilities,” Paul said. “They have made no progress at all.”

Voting for the centers

There will be an election board open hearing Oct. 31.
There will be open public comment, and the board will vote whether to switch from precinct voting to vote centers.

If not passed:
The proposal needs a unanimous vote to pass. Without it the motion for switching to vote centers dies.

If passed:
There will be 30 days for the public to make comments and recommendations for the proposal.
After the 30 days, the election board will decide whether to implement those recommendations.
The proposal for the vote centers will be presented to the state. The state won’t need to permit it, but it needs to have the information on file. Vote centers will be implemented for the 2012 elections.

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Bloomington resident Richard Linnemeier speaks during public comment at the Tuesday election board meeting. Linnemeier says the only reason vote centers are being blocked is to prevent people from voting. Mary Kenney Buy Photos

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The Monroe County Election board meet Tuesday to discuss the 2011 and 2012 election procedures. Judith Smith-Ille, county clerk Linda Robbins and Jan Ellis discuss establishing vote centers in Monroe County. There will be an official hearing for the centers on Oct. 31. Mary Kenney Buy Photos

This week, we discuss a new Interfraternity Council committee responsible for policing parties each weekend and the vote centers issue being considered by the Monroe County Election Board. Mary Kenney and Michael Auslen

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