The Journal Gazette
Monday, October 16, 2017 1:00 am


Early returns: Elections board tweaks advance-voting sites

If you voted early last fall – or tried to – you know interest was great in casting a ballot ahead of Election Day. Long lines and parking at branch libraries were serious problems.

Nearly 15,000 voters cast ballots at the Rousseau Centre on East Main Street or at the Dupont, Hessen Cassel, Georgetown or Aboite branch libraries ahead of Nov. 8, with some waiting as long as three hours. The pressure on the libraries and the frustration of voters had the Allen County Election Board wondering whether early-voting should be continued.

Give Elections Director Beth Dlug and the election board credit for finding a compromise: new sites to accommodate longer hours, more voting machines and more parking. The new locations also are convenient to Citilink bus routes, or near busy thoroughfares many residents travel between home and work or school.

The early voting site at Rousseau Centre on East Main Street will remain.

The 2016 election, with the intense interest in the contest for president, might have been an anomaly in terms of early-voter participation. The tone of the election had many eager to cast their ballots and move on. 

But establishing election practices that make voting convenient and accessible always is important, and the midterm election in 2018 could turn out to have greater interest than anyone expects. It's also important to give voters time to review options and seek changes if those options don't serve all communities well.

Consider central Indiana, where an Indianapolis Star investigation in August found early-voting access between 2008 and 2016 was expanded in GOP-dominated Hamilton County and restricted in Marion County, a Democratic stronghold.

Not surprisingly, Hamilton County saw a 63 percent increase in early/absentee voting, while Marion County saw a 26 percent decrease. During the eight-year period, the number of early voting sites in Marion County was reduced from three to one, as GOP officials blocked expansion. State law requires a unanimous vote of a county's three-member election board to expand early voting. 

Early voting is a convenience to those who might not be able to cast a ballot at their assigned precinct during a 12-hour period on a Tuesday. But the early-voting process should be established to serve all voters. 

Tim Pape, the Democratic representative to the Allen County Election Board, objected to a proposal that set the Summit, the former Taylor University campus on Rudisill Boulevard, as one of the four satellite early-voting sites. He rightly observed the sites shortchanged Democratic-leaning neighborhoods, and suggested adding the Public Safety Academy. The board, which also includes County Clerk Lisa Borgmann and attorney Thomas Hardin, both Republicans, compromised by adding the Public Safety Academy in place of the Summit.

Primary elections are six months away, but careful consideration of election procedures always is welcome. In the case of early-voting sites, it appears to have happened.

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