Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Biggs hits the brakes on County Clerk mobile voting plan

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By LILY REX

The Porter County Board of Commissioners couldn’t muster a majority vote at a special meeting Tuesday morning on County Clerk Jessica Bailey’s plan to buy a special purpose vehicle.

When Commissioner Laura Blaney (D-South) motioned to approve Bailey’s contract to buy a Ford Starcraft 8+2 van using $58,900 transferred from within the Elections & Registration budget, Commissioner Jim Biggs (R-North) let the motion fail when he opted not to second it. Commissioner Jeff Good (R-Center) was absent.

Biggs told the Chesterton Tribune in a phone call that the hang-up for him is Bailey’s plan to use the vehicle as a mobile voting site. The vehicle would also be used to save rental costs for transporting equipment and absentee ballots and holding voter registration drives, according to Bailey.

Blaney said she was in favor of Bailey’s plan in part because it was aimed at streamlining the process, so Porter County won’t see a repeat of the November 2018 election rife with poll worker and voter complaints where 13 polling places opened late, absentee ballots weren’t counted on election day, and results were delayed for three days.

Biggs also cited the 2018 election troubles that took place under former Clerk Karen Martin, but said he was “still raw” over what happened, and he’s skeptical of “plugging in a new form of technology or process” in a presidential election year.

Blaney doesn’t share Biggs’ concerns. “It’s not new equipment. It’s our equipment but just in a van,” she said. Blaney said she’s also in favor in the interest of improving access to voting. “Our voter turnout has been pretty lousy. It’s just one more way to make it easy to vote.” Blaney said. “This is just one more piece of the puzzle to me.”

Blaney said Bailey’s plans to hire a bipartisan team to use the vehicle to transport absentee ballots from early vote sites each week could take stress off workers and ensure that absentee ballots are counted accurately to avoid a repeat of 2018’s issues, and she likes not having to depend on rentals. Bailey also expanded poll worker education classes after the problem election and said she’s found it helpful to bring voting machines to the classes for hands-on training. Transporting machines for the classes was the main source of her van rental expenses ahead of the 2019 general election.

Biggs questions both the cost of the vehicle and the need for better accessibility to voting. His idea on the purported problem of voter turnout: “I don’t think it exists.”

“I think, for the most part, the people who want to vote, vote,” Biggs said, adding voter apathy is more about citizens feelings about government. “I don’t believe for a second that it’s not convenient enough.”

Biggs continued that a mobile vote center is “a technical solution looking for a problem,” and said there are reasons other municipalities haven’t done it. “It’s not government’s job to spend tens of thousands of dollars per election to make it as convenient as possible for people to vote,” Biggs said. “I think we’ve already done that.”

As for the cost, Biggs said he’s certain renting to transport equipment would be cheaper than buying. When asked specifically if he asked Bailey how much she spent on rentals in 2019 and compared those costs to the long-term costs of owning the proposed vehicle, Biggs said he hadn’t.

Bailey, for her part, said Elections & Registration spent $2,064 on rentals for the 2019 general election, but the annual cost of rentals varies because she would use a vehicle more in larger elections. She and her staff borrowed the Coroner’s van as a cost-saving measure in the 2019 primary.

Biggs and Blaney agreed on one thing: that Bailey has done a great job since taking over, and they have full confidence in her leadership. Her plan for the special purpose vehicle has already won approval from the Election Board and County Council.

Bailey said she plans to bring her request back for a vote of the full Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18. She needs the vehicle ready to go for early voting equipment delivery and poll worker education classes in April, and it could have been done by the end of March had her contract with Midwest Transit been approved yesterday.

Now, Bailey said she isn’t sure the vehicle will still be available and guaranteed ready for April. “We’ve already had three vehicles slip through our fingers because of how long this process has taken,” she said.

Bailey stressed how the vehicle could take pressure off the early voting site poll workers, who currently have to transport absentee ballots back to the Administration Center a couple times a week and sort them after working a full day. They are not paid mileage for those trips. Bailey said having one bipartisan team handle the absentee ballots could be more efficient and avoid overtime and frustration.

Bailey said the idea is about more than transporting equipment--it’s also about being more flexible for voters and poll workers and taking the anxiety out of voting: “There’s a lot of value this vehicle could allow that isn’t measured in a dollar sign.”

Bailey first proposed buying a vehicle for use as a mobile vote site using approximately $72,000 that was left over in the 2019 Elections budget back in November, but the money rolled back into the general fund at the end of the year after the County Council tabled the initial request until January.

The Council voted 6 to 1 in January, with Bob Poparad (D-1st) dissenting, in favor of Bailey’s plan to buy the vehicle and outfit it as a mobile vote site. It will be ADA accessible and could visit parks in Burns Harbor, Kouts, and South Haven on Saturdays in April. Insuring the vehicle would cost $1,600 a year, according to Bailey.

 

Posted 2/12/2020

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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