Chesterton Tribune



County Council greenlights vehicle purchase for mobile voting idea

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The Porter County Council Tuesday voted 6-1 to approve Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey to transfer money within her budget to purchase a special purpose vehicle.

Bailey requested a transfer of $70,000 from her polling place boards line item to motor vehicles, as the Election Board approved at its last meeting. Bailey told the Election Board earlier this month she was requesting a transfer instead of an additional appropriation in hopes of having the vehicle before early voting begins. $70,000 surplus from Bailey’s 2019 budget that she was hoping to use to buy the vehicle in December rolled back into the general fund at the beginning of the year after the County Council tabled her first request to buy the vehicle. Bailey said she will go through the longer process of requesting an additional appropriation later if the funds need replacing.

Having the vehicle for early voting is important because Bailey plans to use it for a novel idea--a mobile early voting site. The Elections & Registration Office has tentatively scheduled the mobile vote center to visit parks in Towns without early vote centers on Saturdays in April.

The vehicle will also be used to transport equipment to and from poll worker education classes and early voting sites and to problem polling places on election day, if the need arises. The County racked up excessive charges renting vehicles or had to borrow the Coroner’s van in the 2019 elections, according to Bailey.

Other municipalities in the United States have experimented with offering mobile early vote sites. Porter County stands to be the first place in Indiana to try it.

Typically, Bailey said mobile vote sites are operated out of single-wide trailers towed by another vehicle, but Bailey’s eyeing a vehicle that resembles a small commuter bus or senior center van, which doesn’t need to be towed and comes ADA-accessible with a wheelchair lift.

Mobile voting sites are legal in Indiana as long as they’re operated like a regular voting site, Bailey said. Dates, times, and locations for mobile early voting must be planned and advertised, and the vehicle itself operated by a bipartisan team. Elections & Registration has proposed the mobile vote site could visit Pensey Park in Kouts, Lakeland Park in Burns Harbor, and Haven Hollow Park in South Haven. Parks are more accessible for voters without reliable transportation and for busy families, according to Bailey.

The Council asked for more information about Bailey’s plan in November. She reported Tuesday she confirmed the vehicle and all its planned uses are covered under County insurance and arranged for it to be stored and maintained by the Porter County Highway Department. Insuring the vehicle costs $1,600 a year.

Council member Bob Poparad (D-1st) said early in the discussion that he planned to vote against the proposal. Poparad argued $70,000 is better spent on traditional early voting. “I just thought expanding early voting would have a way bigger impact than driving that van through Burns Harbor’s Lakeland park on Saturdays,” he said.

Bailey countered that turnout is too low in certain early vote locations to justify expanded hours, and the mobile vote center offers a convenience factor for voters in Towns without early vote sites. Also, Bailey has planned expanded early voting--she’s adding a fifth early voting site, in Union Township, and expanding early voting hours at every location on every Tuesday and Thursday in advance of the primary.

Council member Greg Simms (D-3rd) was in ardent support of the idea, as he went back and forth with Poparad saying other municipalities would love to have this opportunity. Simms said he’d also talked to Porter County voters who like the idea: “This is a very positive thing.”

Council member Dan Whitten (D-At-large) said there’s no harm in thinking outside the box. Council Vice-president Mike Jessen (R-4th) said he appreciated all the efforts to expand early voting. “I appreciate your effort,” Jessen told Bailey. “You, at least to my satisfaction, went out and got the questions answered. I applaud the Election Board and your office in terms of trying to make this happen.”

The Council approved the transfer with Poparad as the lone no vote.



Posted 1/31/2020





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