Monroe County’s three-member election board met Thursday to chart a course for 2020, a year when extraordinary levels of voter turnout are expected.
Standard issues that need to be settled include polling locations for early voting and on Election Day, training poll workers on new voting equipment, and recruiting people to work the polls.
Election supervisor Karen Wheeler encouraged people who want to help at the polls to call her office (812-349-2690). Even though it seems early to be be thinking about it, early voting for primaries starts in April, Wheeler said. She added, “We’re going to be needing a lot of people.”
On the matter of locations for early voting and election day ballot processing, an apparent sticky wicket of space constraints in the old Johnson Hardware building, at 7th and Madison streets, got aired out again by county clerk Nicole Browne at Thursday’s meeting. Under state statute, Browne serves on the election board.
The old hardware building, aka Election Central, is where voter registration and early voting has taken place in the past. Because of the space limitations there, a satellite location for early voting was operated out of the Showers building in 2016.
Browne would like to avoid using two locations for early voting in 2020. Browne had also raised the space issue at the board’s December meeting.
Browne called on voters to contact county commissioners to encourage them to support additional square footage at the Johnson Hardware building for election activities, so that “spacial issues are not a hindrance to Monroe County delivering a successful presidential election.”
In late December, a potential set of renovations to the building were identified, which election staff thought were going to be pursued, according to election supervisor Karen Wheeler. The renovations to increase space in the building could still be done, but county commissioners have some questions they want answered, according to Angie Purdie, who’s the administrator for the board of commissioners.
One question is whether the renovations will eliminate the need for a satellite early-voting location at the Showers building. Commissioners also want to get a clearer understanding of the significant extra expense for operating an satellite location at the Showers building. And finally, commissioners want to know if it re-locating all Election Central activity to the Showers facility would be possible.
Browne told The Beacon that in the longer term she’d like to see the entire Johnson Hardware building allocated to elections. The other part of the building that’s not occupied by Election Central is assigned to county corrections. It’s a topic her predecessor had raised, and she’s raised it herself as well, Browne said.
According to Purdie, there is currently “no discussion” about taking space from the corrections department.
Browne concluded her remarks at the election board meeting by saying, “[I]t is imperative to me personally, professionally and for the purpose of the reported election board minutes, that every Monroe County voter, poll worker, and constituent is clear that my office did not wait until January 2020 to initiate outreach regarding the spatial issues at Election Central.”
At least a short-term path forward is supposed to get sorted out at a meeting next Wednesday between deputy clerk Tressia Martin, election supervisor Karen Wheeler, and the commissioners, Purdie told The Beacon. Browne said at Wednesday’s election board meeting that she would be providing commissioners with a formal response to the questions the commissioners had asked.
The location for voting inside the Indiana Memorial Union will remain in the University Club for the primaries, but university officials have proposed that it move to the solarium for the general election next year. It’s a much bigger space that could better accommodate the throngs of voters who are expected. A final decision is pending review of the ADA requirements for parking spaces.
On the issue of Election Day polling locations, the election board reviewed the possibility of moving a polling location from Edgewood High School to the Ellettsville town hall. The board is looking to stay with the high school location. That’s in part because it would cost $600 to contract with police on Election Day to provide traffic control, so that the left turn into the town hall is easier for voters.
The board is expecting to vote on the final list of polling locations next month.
Related to the general issue of polling places in schools, election board member Carolyn VandeWiele alerted her colleagues and the public to a bill has been introduced for this year’s session of the the state senate by Sen. Rick Niemeyer. The bill (SB 82) would, starting in 2024, prohibit using elementary and secondary schools as polling places. [The Beacon intends to report more on the bill in a separate story.]
Browne gave an update on the new voting equipment that has been purchased from Hart Intercivic. She reported that representatives from Hart had said earlier in the day delivery could be expected in early February.
The county had originally allowed for up to $1 million for the new equipment, and at one point planned to pay for it out of the annual general obligation bond. It was paid for with cash reserves. The contract with Hart, approved by commissioners at their Dec. 11 meeting, was for $735,600.
New electronic poll books, said Browne at Thursday’s meeting, are the next thing to consider.
Election Board Housekeeping
VandeWiele presided over Thursday’s meeting, but it will be the last one she’ll chair this year. She explained the rotational pattern for alternating the chairship between the Democratic Party representative and the Republican Party representative.
The board voted to put Republican Hal Turner in the chair’s seat.