The Herald Bulletin
---- — Just when it appeared that Madison County was going to step into the 21st century and adopt a voting centers concept, politics got in the way.
Ludy Watkins, Madison County Democratic Party chairwoman, took Paul Wilson off the county election board and replaced him with ... herself. Ostensibly, Watkins removed Wilson because of a family health problem confronting him. But Wilson says that he was more than able and willing to continue serving on the election board.
The three-person election board must unanimously approve changes in the local election process, and with Wilson on the board it appeared that all three members — Republican County Clerk Darlene Likens and Republican Party appointee Jay Stapleton are the two other members — would line up to approve the voting centers proposal.
Then, at the 11th hour, Watkins replaced Wilson on the board. In the aftermath of that move, she noted that she had reservations about the voting centers concept.
The election board will conduct a public meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Madison County Government Center to vote on the voting centers proposal.
Recent past elections in Madison County have included 82 voting sites, 28 days of early voting at the courthouse and opportunities for absentee and traveling board voting.
The voting centers proposal, which Wilson is primarily responsible for drafting, would reduce the number of Election Day voting sites in the county to 25, but it would make voting easier on Election Day and during the runup to elections.
The proposal calls for the same opportunities for early voting at the courthouse and for absentee and traveling board voting, but it adds four early-voting sites that would each be open 16 days, including three weekends for each.
In addition, the voting centers proposal would create a traveling early voting site that would spend 16 days, including weekends, visiting various locales in the county at pre-appointed times so that residents could stop by and vote early at their convenience.
On Election Day, citizens would no longer be limited to a single site to cast their votes. They could choose to vote at any one of the 25 voting centers that would be established across the county.
The purchase of about 50 poll-site computers would be necessary to track voting and make sure that people are not trying to vote at more than one site. These computers would cost the county about $96,000, according to Wilson.
But, he contends, the county would save money by having to hire fewer poll workers and would spend less on paper printouts. Wilson estimates that the county would save $30,000 on each election after the third election cycle following the adoption of voting centers.
This proposal makes a lot of sense for the county and for ease of voter access. It’s too bad that Watkins, who had originally appointed Wilson to the board, has now removed him, apparently so that she could block the passage of the proposal.
The voting centers proposal is not absent of concerns. With more access to early voting, for instance, the need for transparency and communication of the process is multiplied.
But, overall, the voting centers proposal (similar programs have been adopted in recent years in nine Indiana counties) would improve access to the democratic process for Madison County citizens.
Be heard The Madison County Election Board will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday in room 110 at the Madison County Government Center to decide whether to adopt the voting centers proposal. You can still make your voice heard by attending the meeting (comment time will be limited) or emailing to email@example.com by noon Tuesday.