Starke County Election Board Voices Concerns with Proposed Vote Center Plan

Just days before a draft of Starke County’s vote center plan is set to be presented to the public, an election board member raised a few questions about the proposed change. Last month, board members approved a list of seven potential vote center locations, which was then approved by the county commissioners last week.

But during Thursday’s election board meeting, Board Member Harrison Fields said he wasn’t sure about the locations, after all. “I never had a choice in picking these places,” he said. “Neither did my proxy.”

Clerk Bernadette Welter-Manuel replied, “Your proxy had the same places I did.”

“But you picked the places,” Fields answered.

“That’s why we’ve been talking about this for three meetings now to get everybody’s input,” Welter-Manuel said.

Fields’ concerns included whether each proposed vote center has enough parking, as well as the spacing between vote centers. Board President Marcia Bedrock asked Fields if he had any other locations in mind, but Fields said he hadn’t thought about it.

“Harrison, let me ask you this,” Bedrock began. “You’ve had a lot of time to research this. If we’re going back now – “

“How do you know I have a lot of time to research it?” Fields interrupted. “You don’t know my schedule. Just because I’m retired, I don’t sit in the house every day with basically nothing to do.”

Welter-Manuel interjected, “This is your job, though, on this board, is to learn about these.”

“So it’s not about learning about something necessarily at your pace,” Bedrock added. “We have to have something presented whether it’s voted on or not.”

Fields also seemed to question the whole idea of switching to vote centers, suggesting that the county look at just consolidating precincts instead. Welter-Manuel noted that consolidation would still only each resident one place to vote on Election Day. “You’re going to shrink the number of areas to vote, and make them stuck in one place to vote,” the clerk said.

“Don’t use those words, ‘Make them stuck,’” Fields replied. “What does that mean? Let me tell you, if you’d worked these like I have, I’ve worked these elections for years. This Election Day is very, very important to the people, to go to a polling place and vote.”

As for some specific changes to the vote center plan, Welter-Manuel suggested expanding early voting opportunities from what she originally proposed. Three days of in-person absentee voting would be available at satellite locations in North Judson and Koontz Lake, rather than just one. There would also be 28 days of early voting at the Starke County Courthouse in Knox.

As the vote center plan currently stands, 59 poll workers would be required for a county-wide election. Each vote center would have a supervisor and lead facilitator, plus facilitators and clerks. Welter-Manuel said the plan is designed to keep the staff politically balanced.

The draft vote center plan will be presented to the public during Monday’s joint county council and commissioners meeting. Residents will then be able to comment on it until January 2, before a final decision is made. If approved, the switch to vote centers would take effect with the May 5, 2020 primary.