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County Council questions Clerk mobile voting idea

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By LILY REX

The Porter County Council said there were a lot of unanswered questions related to Porter County Clerk Jessica Bailey’s proposal to buy a utility vehicle that could become a mobile vote center.

The Council tabled Bailey’s request for a transfer of $62,000 from her maintenance agreement line item to her motor vehicles fund to buy the utility vehicle, which Bailey said would resemble a V-Line or senior center bus.

Having the vehicle would make the Elections Division more independent in terms of transporting voting machines and other equipment. The new voting machines must be transported upright, which requires a tall vehicle with a lift, Bailey said.

Bailey said she borrowed the Coroner’s van to transport machines to and from poll worker education classes and early vote sites for the primary and rented vans for those purposes for the general election this year. A lot of time and money went into renting and borrowing this year, and that’s not convenient for anyone, Bailey said.

The utility vehicle she wants to buy would be used to transport equipment, but also to hold voter registration events and potentially as a mobile vote center.

The vehicle she wants would have the seats removed from the back for cargo space and could be used as a mobile vote center if it were equipped with electricity and a battery back-up system to run e-poll books. It would also be ADA-accessible, since it has a lift, she said.

The mobile vote center could go to densely populated areas or special events where voting isn’t usually available. Mobile vote centers are not in use anywhere in Indiana that Bailey knows of, but other Indiana counties are talking about it, and it has been implemented in other states where it has come up as a way to increase voter turnout and make voting easier.

Bailey noted early voting has been on the rise, but not everyone can vote early. “Our early voting is 8:30 to 3:30,” Bailey said. “If you’re on the train to Chicago, if you’re a shift worker, or a teacher, you’re not making it. On Saturdays, a lot of people don’t want to wait in long lines.”

Bailey said Elections staff would have to make a schedule and notify voters where mobile voting would be available, and the vehicle could be used the same way as an early vote location. A bipartisan team would run it and later transport ballots to a secure location. The vehicle could be stored at the Valparaiso highway department garage, Bailey said.

The Council members agreed they want to see increased voter turnout, but had reservations about a mobile vote center.

Council Vice-president Jeff Larson, R-At-Large, asked if the Elections & Registration Board, which Bailey is an ex officio member of, is on board with the idea. Bailey said they haven’t expressed opposition, but they haven’t voted, as they normally don’t vote on her expenses. Bailey, however, said she’s been in contact with the Indiana Elections Division, and they like the idea. The local Election Board has the final say on how the utility vehicle is used, however.

Larson had more concerns, including whether expanding early voting might be less costly to the County and how insurance liability would work for a mobile vote site. Bailey said she’s definitely in favor of expanding early voting, and the Election Board will be discussing it next year anyway.

Sylvia Graham, D-At-Large, said she’s 100 percent behind Bailey’s efforts, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Mike Jessen, R-4th, said approval from the Election Board is important to him, and he’d like to hear how mobile vote centers have worked in other municipalities.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, suggested Bailey come back with more specifics on logistics and how she plans to attract people to a mobile vote site. “I like all the things you said, but I want to make sure that’s how it’s going to end up,” he said.

Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said, “I applaud what you’re doing, this is thinking out of the box.” Rivas was the lone no vote against tabling the discussion.

After the vote, Larson said nobody wants to stand in the way of increasing early voting. Rivas responded that six of them just did.

Veteran’s Services Recognition

Larson said he and Whitten have long discussed a way to honor Porter County residents who have served, and they settled on presenting awards at Council meetings.

Director of Veteran’s Services Jim Atkinson honored Veteran Don Davis for his work with the American Legion and Pines Village Retirement Communities CEO Laurie Mullet for her support of local veterans. Atkinson said both Davis and Mullet have done great things for veterans and for the aging community in Porter County.

Larson said the Council would be happy to hear from the public about more people they should honor at their meetings.

Other Business

Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper came before the Council for what is likely the last time in her career in the Porter Circuit Court, to request a $5,000 transfer for hourly pay for a law clerk. Harper is retiring after 35-years.

Whitten said Harper will be missed, and Graham thanked Harper for her service. Harper said it’s been her honor to serve, and the Council has been a great group of people to work with.

The Council approved an additional appropriation so Porter County Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos can make the last payment on the new Horton Children’s Center at Sunset Hill Farm County Park. Council member Greg Simms, D-3rd, also commented that the new building is great.

The Council passed the 2020 salary ordinance on first reading, then suspended it rules to pass the ordinance the same night. County employees are getting a 3 percent raise in 2020.

 

Posted 11/20/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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