Election Board should expand access to polls

Vigo County can reverse its recent history of weak voter turnouts. Public awareness campaigns and registration drives are tools to improve that most cherished expression of democracy — casting a ballot.

Yet, one of the best methods to encourage greater participation is to broaden citizen accessibility to voting outlets.

The Vigo County Election Board has the opportunity to do just that. That three-member public panel is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. today in the Clerk’s Office. The meeting comes one month after the board discussed changes in the county’s lineup of Election Day vote centers for 2018 and beyond. That November session drew widespread community interest, because the possibility of reducing the number of Election Day polling sites had been raised when the board last met in August.

Instead, the board presented a plan at the November meeting to increase the roster of vote centers to 20. Vigo County has operated 18 Election Day vote centers since 2014. (The Vigo County Courthouse, an early voting site, is listed as a 19th vote center on the 2016 plan, though it was not open on Election Day.) However, the board put off a decision on its proposal so its members could further study its implementation.

Several organizations had voiced concerns about a potential decrease in the number of vote centers, including the League of Women Voters of Vigo County, Terre Haute’s chapter of the NAACP, Citizens for Better Government in Vigo County and Forward Together Terre Haute. Yet, average citizens have legitimate reasons to want undiminished access to voting. Working Vigo Countians need a variety of close-proximity sites during Indiana’s antiquated Election Day polling hours, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the nation’s earliest closing time. Elderly people may be dissuaded by long lines at a small number of voting sites.

The Election Board proposal presented last month called for a few Election Day locations to be dropped and replaced with others. Additional vote centers would raise the total to 20. The total number of early voting sites would remain at six. The courthouse will be replaced by the annex as the county’s early in-person voting site through the 28 days prior the election, as required by state law.

Members of the concerned citizen groups expressed doubts that the Election Board would approve the plan to increase the number of vote centers and instead rationalize a downsizing of the polling sites. They also urged the board to drop its irrational resistance to the placement of a vote center on the Indiana State University campus, a worthwhile prospect that has been rejected thus far by the Republican members of the board. (Any changes to the vote center format must be unanimously approved.)

The board should approve at least a slate of 20 vote centers and include the campus site. This community — which recorded the smallest number of voters in history for a city election, with just 8,255 in 2015 — needs healthier civic engagement. Next year can mark the start of a transformation, and the Election Board can play a large role in facilitating such a turnaround.

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