The Monroe County Election Board has decided not to implement satellite voting this year. However, there may be one question left: Why?
The core of the debate was the creation of early voting sites at various locations throughout the county.
This year, voters registered in Monroe County can vote early at the Curry Building on West Seventh Street.
However, in 2008 there were several sites open in Monroe County to early voters, including some on the IU campus.
When the same question came up this year, it was not passed by the Monroe County Election Board the first, second or the third time it was proposed.
The issue was very important to some residents.
Students for Access to Voting Early staged a march to the Monroe County Justice Building for one Election Board meeting on Sept. 14.
Republican Election Board member Judith Smith-Ille said emotions were running high at the board meetings where the issue was debated and decided.
Jan Ellis, Democratic Election Board chairwoman, supported satellite voting for this election during all three meetings.
“Whatever we can do to make it more convenient to vote, we need to do,” Ellis said.
For Ellis, it was an issue of accessibility and making it easier for people to access early voting sites rather than having them all come to the Curry Building.
“Somebody had brought up in one of our meetings that we should make voting as convenient as banking,” Ellis said. “Why not make it easy to vote when it’s the most important right we can exercise?”
Smith-Ille, on the other hand, said the satellite voting decision was an issue of funds and accessibility for handicapped voters.
She said, based on her recollection, the board never actually voted on satellite voting itself, but rather on an amendment that would have added to the list of voting sites.
In any case, Smith-Ille said she would not have supported satellite voting for this election.
“This is an off-year election,” Smith-Ille said. “Do the candidates and do I as a human being wish it was more exciting? You bet I do, because hard-fought elections are what get people out to vote. But I don’t think the satellites are necessary.”
Smith-Ille said the budget for this year’s election did not provide for satellite voting sites.
The other issue, she said, was that two of the three satellite voting sites from 2008 are not handicap accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Help America Vote Act.
“They have 32 criteria to make a polling place handicap accessible,” she said. “It’s the level of the parking lot, how the parking lot is paved, the distance of handicap spaces to the door to where you vote.”
This is why the Election Board recommended the Monroe County Commissioners reinstate a committee designed to address the issue of the Help America Vote Act’s enforcement within the county.
If those issues were resolved, Smith-Ille said she would be in favor of satellite voting locations.
“I would support satellite voting, but it’s got to be mathematically a good thing to do,” she said. “As a member of the Monroe County Election Board, I will never vote for any voting place for satellite voting that is not handicap accessible according to HAVA.”
Monroe County Clerk and Elections Board member Jim Fielder provided a sort of middle ground.
He said he supported satellite voting locations, but not those on the IU campus.
“My reasoning for that is that I feel like satellite voting should be open to different people,” Fielder said. “At each election, I feel like we need to get satellite voting out into the county where it is hard for some people to get in and vote.”
He said the Curry Building is close enough to campus for students to be able to vote early if they so desire.
Fielder also said on Election Day there are polling places on campus for some of the precincts, so many students may be able to vote without even leaving their dorm rooms.
He said there are better places to hold satellite voting than on campus.
But Fielder said opposition to on-campus satellite voting is not the same as opposition to the student vote.
“I hope that just because there’s not satellite voting out on campus doesn’t mean that this will keep the students away,” Fielder said. “We certainly want them to be our voters if they want to be voters here in Monroe County.”
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