"Committee approves election reforms

Last Wednesday, the City-County Council’s Election Investigation Committee approved a draft list of proposals for revamping Marion County elections in an effort to prevent the problems that led to 140 of the county’s precincts to open late, or, in a few cases, not open at all during last May’s primary.

The Election Investigation Committee, which was originally formed in 2004 to investigate the problems during that year’s election, was reconvened this spring to determine what went wrong in May and identify ways to “help restore the public’s confidence” in Marion County’s election process.

Since then, the committee has held four regular meetings at the City-County Council Building, as well as four meetings throughout the county that the committee’s chair, Councilor Jackie Nytes (D), has referred to as “listening sessions.”

Other members of the committee are Republicans Susie Day, Robert Lutz and Ryan Vaughn, and Democrats Lonnell Connelly, Ron Gibson and Cherish Prior. In addition to these committee members, Marion County Clerk Beth White, who publicly accepted the blame for the primary problems in May, was both a regular and active participant in the meetings.

White herself was not present at the final meeting last Wednesday when the committee presented and voted to approve the report containing their final recommendations, but representatives from her office attended to respond to questions and concerns from committee members.

At the final meeting, Nytes called the proposal to reduce the number of Marion County precincts from 917 to no more than 600, “probably the most important statement we’re making here.” This is something White herself previously acknowledged was a contributing factor to the problems in the primary.

The committee’s report also included a number of other recommendations, some of which could be implemented in the short term. Many of these recommendations reflected the concerns voiced at the “listening sessions” by election workers who experienced the primary day problems first-hand.

A large factor in polling places opening late or not at all was poll workers not showing up or not performing their duties properly. Over 100 poll workers never showed up, causing serious understaffing at many precincts; and about 150 inspectors failed to pick up the materials they were supposed to the night before the election, which led to last-minute scrambles on election morning.

By keeping better track of the people who volunteer to work the election, improving training materials and increasing pay for poll workers, the committee hopes to prevent last-minute problems.

“Of course the volume of what we’re dealing with is overwhelming. Most counties in Indiana have fewer than a hundred precincts,” White told NUVO earlier this summer.

But, she cautioned, more needs to be done than reducing the number of precincts.

“Even if that happens, the issue of running an election in Marion County, in this volume of jurisdiction is a challenge,” White said.

Also, reducing the number of precincts would require amending state law and therefore would not be possible in time for this fall’s election.

Another suggestion made by the committee was extending voting hours by closing the polls at 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. This would also require a change in state law, but is something “virtually every other state in the union” already does according to the committee.

For more information go to www.indygov.org.



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