Satellite voting effort dies 

click to enlarge Marion County Election Board members (from left) Vice Chair Patrick Dietrick, Chair Mark Sullivan and Clerk Beth White all voted in favor of expanding early-voting hours at the clerk's City County Building office, but split 2-1 over providing satellite voting locations. State law required a unanimous vote. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • Marion County Election Board members (from left) Vice Chair Patrick Dietrick, Chair Mark Sullivan and Clerk Beth White all voted in favor of expanding early-voting hours at the clerk's City County Building office, but split 2-1 over providing satellite voting locations. State law required a unanimous vote.
  • Rebecca Townsend

Despite a majority vote, the Marion County Election Board on Monday rejected the United Auto Workers' offer to underwrite satellite early-voting locations in the upcoming municipal election.

Last week, the UAW made an unsolicited offer to donate $50,000 to the city for the sole purpose of enabling early voting at satellite locations. Clerk White emphasized that the group would have no say over any of the election logistics such as location or hours of the proposed satellite centers. The donation was made to address the fiscal concerns some detractors raised, questioning whether the cost of enabling satellite voting centers could be justified.

Both Marion County Clerk Beth White and Election Board Chair Mark Sullivan embraced the idea, but Vice Chair Patrick Dietrick voted against it. During the same meeting, the board did approve extended early voting options at the clerk's office in the City County Building.

Indiana law mandates that satellite-voting plans must receive unanimous approval from the Election Board.

Sullivan and Dietrick hold positions appointed by the local Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Clerk White, also a Democrat, was elected to her current position in 2007.

Dietrick offered no comment during the meeting regarding his rejection of the satellite voting plan, though afterward he told reporters he felt it is "wholly inappropriate for a group like that [the UAW] to get involved in that intimate a manner."

Clerk White, on the other hand, said she would prefer to use the public money already budgeted for the purpose of satellite voting.

"I believe spending $50,000 for satellite voting is appropriate, necessary and budgeted," she said.

White acknowledged that that the offered donation "is, by all accounts, an unusual gesture. But," she added, "just because it's unusual, doesn't mean it can't work and can't be appropriate."

In response to attorney Andy Mallon's presentation of the donation agreement, Dietrick asked what sort of precedent existed for such use of private resources in election operations.

"It's a novel concept for elections," Mallon said. But, he noted, "there's absolutely a precedent for accepting donations for different projects."

Mallon also noted the great extent to which the two big political parties help to underwrite different aspects of the election process.

click to enlarge The UAW offered to donate $50,000 to support satellite voting efforts. The group made no formal presentation at the meeting and issued no formal statement following the Election Board's vote, but some audience members made sure the group's presence was known. - REBECCA TOWNSEND
  • The UAW offered to donate $50,000 to support satellite voting efforts. The group made no formal presentation at the meeting and issued no formal statement following the Election Board's vote, but some audience members made sure the group's presence was known.
  • Rebecca Townsend

The regional UAW office did not offer a formal statement following the meeting and declined to respond to a request for comment.

The MCEB had supported satellite early voting locations in the 2008 and 2009 two locations, but the support fell apart along party lines last year.

Advocates of allowing satellite early voting emphasize the importance of enabling the greatest possible access to the polls for the elderly, people with disabilities and others who are impeded from making the trip downtown to cast an early ballot.

Following the meeting, Dietrich reasserted his position that satellite voting centers do not guarantee higher voter turnout.

In a position paper submitted to the Indianapolis Business Journal earlier this year, Dietrick cited research from MIT, American University, the American Enterprise Institute underscoring his point. At times, he noted, cities that offered satellite voting options actually registered decreases in votes cast.

In Marion County, though, he noted a 1.05 percent increase in the number of early-vote ballots cast between 2004 and 2008, which he said must be viewed in light of the 16 percent increase in registered voters.

Overall, ballots cast increased 18 percent in 2008 from 2004.

For convenience and accessibility advocates, any vote is worth the effort and expense.

At a press conference last week, Clerk White, Sullivan and Southport Mayor Rob Thoman, a Republican, and Washington Township Trustee Frank Short — who volunteered space for the proposed north and south satellite voting locations —emphasized the popularity of past satellite early voting options.

According to the Clerk's Office, almost 39,000 people voted at the city's two satellite centers, which were open for 11 days prior to Election Day in 2008. By comparison, 34,000 cast early votes at her office downtown.

Thorman recalled lines of voters "around the corners and down the block" at the Southport satellite location that year.

Two St. Clair residents, both active in 10th Ward vote-promotion efforts, attended the meeting to watch the vote.

"The reason I want satellite voting is for the convenience of the people," said Virginia Barth, who serves as a poll worker in her neighborhood.

"I don't like going through security downstairs; I'd feel more comfortable at a satellite location. Not everyone wants to come downtown."

For her friend, Rosemary Stockdale, the issue boils down to enabling more people to participate in the voting experience.

"It's not just about the voting, it's going to vote that gives [people] pride," Stockdale said. "We need to encourage pride in our community, not discourage it."

Following the meeting, Clerk White also expressed her disappointment, adding, "The people of Marion County are the losers today."

She said the issue is officially dead for this year, but vowed to renew her efforts to enable greater voting options in 2012.

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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

Bio:
Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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