Strawn puches for 14 machines
The Buena Vista County board of supervisors got an earful at a public meeting in Truesdale last week as it began the process of consolidating voting precincts in the county.
County residents attending the meeting said they were unhappy with losing so much, that they live in the country because they like the peace and quiet but felt that taking a precinct away was one more way the rural areas are losing.
"The older people are the ones who are the more dedicated voters," said one resident. "This may affect how they are able to get to the polls.
"I'm older and I'm tired and now I drive five miles to vote. If I have to drive 20 miles, I may not vote."
The county's commissioner of elections, Karen Strawn, said Wednesday that she heard from people that the right to vote is a basic right and "we don't want to see that right impacted by making it more difficult to vote."
The county has been mandated, like the rest of the country, by the federal Helping Americans Vote Act (HAVA), to buy new voting machines, an issue that could put big financial strain on an already burdened county budget if some action isn't taken. And the action the county is trying to take is reducing the number of machines by reducing the number of precincts that need them.
"We have to have these in every precinct, that's the law," said county supervisor Lorna Burnside. "These machines have not even been designed yet, so we won't have to do this before this election, but we want to get a jump on the issues this is presenting to us and the voters in our county."
She added that "probably the soonest voters would see the new machines would be in the 2006 elections."
Burnside added that changing precincts can only happen once every 10 years, once every census.
Since the machines carry a hefty price tag and the county is in somewhat of a bind financially, the board is trying to consolidate some of the voting precincts.
"These will cost the county a pretty hefty sum," Burnside said. "So we are trying save the county money and also double check the accessibility for our handicapped voters."
County board chair Herb Crampton said the new voting machines will probably run in the neighborhood of $15,000 or more.
"These are computers and have a lot of different functions, especially for people with disabilities," he said.
Burnside said that all voters regardless of their physical abilities will be able to operate the machines and vote.
"Even people who are seeing- or hearing-impaired will be able to use them," she said. "No one will be disenfranchised from voting."
At the Truesdale meeting, the county presented a plan to merge the county's 14 precincts into six. Storm Lake presently has four precincts with no plans to change or merge.
That, said the county's commissioner of elections, Karen Strawn, was too severe.
"Most of the respondents at the meeting were not opposed to the idea of merging, just the severity of the consolidation," Strawn said. "The folks who turned out for the meeting presented alternative plans to the board. These would see a merger creating nine precincts."
In the present plans, the precincts would be merged in one of the following ways:
1) Brooke-Barnes; Lee-Poland; Fairfield-Coon; Scott-Lincoln; Elk-Nokomis; Washington-Grant; Maple Valley-Hayes-Providence; Newell.
2) Brooke-Barnes; Lee-Poland; Fairfield-Coon; Scott-Lincoln; Elk-Nokomis; Washington-Grant; Maple Valley-Hayes; Providence- Newell.
3) Brooke-Barnes-Lee; Poland-Lincoln-Fairfield; ; Scott- Elk-Nokomis; Washington- Maple Valley-Hayes; Providence- Newell-Coon-Grant.
But Strawn said Wednesday that what is finally coming out of the board meeting and the meeting in Truesdale is deciding on using No. 2 of the above plans and either splitting Poland and Lee or combining them.
"One of the strongest arguments we heard was that since every city (nine not counting Storm Lake) has a city election, why not keep a polling place in each town," Strawn said. "Well, that's right, and I told the board that I would request they purchase not less than 14 machines."
Strawn explained that there are nine towns in the county and four precincts in Storm Lake, making the total number of machines needed by the county 13, plus an additional one for absentee ballots for a total of 14 voting machines. The extra machine would also be used as a back up in case of breakdowns.
"I understand that towns do not historically have high voter turnout for city elections," Strawn said. "But I wouldn't want to run those without machines. I want to be sure all voters in the county are treated equally at the polls."
Strawn and Burnside said the county will make every effort to inform voters about merger plans.
A proposed precinct merger map, contact numbers, Web sites for community input and dates of upcoming meetings on the mergers will be announced soon.