The Caledonia Argus
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Some polling places might be combined
Houston County auditor explains voting changes to township officers
By David Heiller
Argus News Editor
Some major changes in elections are scheduled to start next year.
That was one of the messages that about 40 Houston County township officials heard at their annual meeting on March 28.
County auditor Pete Johnson spoke about the voting changes for about half an hour at the Four Seasons Community Center.
The meeting also included a legislative update by Rep. Greg Davids, and a presentation on anaerobic digesters (see related story).
The voting changes are partly due to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Johnson told township officers. HAVA is a federal law that was passed in 2002 as a result of the voting controversy in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.
The law requires that every voter should get equal opportunity to cast their vote in secrecy, regardless of disability, Johnson said.
In addition, Houston County’s central count equipment that has been in use since 1992 is outdated and needs to be replaced. Rather than do that, Johnson is recommending that each polling place have its own precinct counter.
If some precincts share polling places, as Johnson is also recommending, the total price tag for Houston County with the HAVA law and precinct counters would be about $150,000. It would cost about $195,000 if all of the county’s 27 polling places stay separate with no combined precincts.
“This (combining polling places) will streamline what we’re doing as far as elections go,” Johnson said.
Some federal grant money will be coming to help pay for the HAVA requirements, Johnson said.
All of these changes are for state and federal elections, Johnson said. He hopes they won’t apply to township elections, at which voter turnout is usually very low.
“We feel that the townships can count the ballots like they have in the past,” Johnson said.
Houston County has always used a central counter. It’s current one was bought in 1992 and has handled 14 elections. It is outdated and vendors are not supplying parts for it anymore, Johnson said..
The HAVA equipment will accommodate people in wheelchairs, and people with handicaps related to eyesight, hearing, or using their extremities.
County auditors don’t expect usage will be high for any of this equipment, especially the HAVA machines, Johnson said. One county auditor told him it would be cheaper to buy a HAVA machine for every person who needs one in the county rather than for every precinct. Johnson said he has never heard a complaint from someone not being able to vote.
Another wrinkle in the HAVA requirement is that the federal government hasn’t nailed down all the requirements for the equipment, Johnson. “We can try to anticipate what they’re going to say,” he said. But it could lead to a big scramble in the fall to get the equipment purchase and in place by January 1. It’s an unrealistic goal in Johnson’s opinion, and there has been discussion that HAVA compliance be put off until the 2008 election.
Precinct counters are straight orward, Johnson said, and have been in place in many Minnesota counties for 15-20 years or more.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer wants precinct counters in every polling place so that mistakes can be corrected right at the time that they are made, Johnson said. The machines reject incorrect ballots. That way the voter has the opportunity to vote correctly. With the central count system, correcting spoiled ballots was impossible.
The HAVA law and the move to new precinct counters did not receive a warm welcome from people at the meeting last week. “We’re being forced to fix something that quite frankly doesn’t need fixing,” second district county Kevin Kelleher said, echoing comments that were murmured around the tables in the room. “I’m not sure at the end we’re going to have anything better.”
Leaders support proposed bill
In other comments at the meeting, Greg Davids, Minnesota State Representative from District 31B, said that he supported a bill (H.F 1752) that would change the involvement of the MPCA and Department of Agriculture in the review and adoption of feedlot ordinances in counties and township. He said he had heard from opponents of the bill that it would take away local control, but does not agree.
Gary Pedersen, the District 1 representative for the Minnesota Association of Townships, agreed with Davids. “We’re viewing this bill as being friendly to the townships,” he said.
Polling places could be shared
Houston County has 27 voter precincts. Combing polling places into 12 locations could save about $35,000 in the purchase of new voting machines, according to auditor Pete Johnson. He suggested the following combinations at the annual township officers meeting on March 28. The number of registered voters is given in parentheses. Houston County has 11,933 registered voters.
• Houston city (555), Houston (275), Money Creek Township (367);
• Sheldon (176), Yucatan (241);
• Black Hammer (179), City of Spring Grove (690), Spring Grove (246);
• City of Caledonia, precinct one (722), precinct two (944);
• Caledonia (380), Mayville (236);
• City of Eitzen (143), Wilmington (275), Winnebago (149);
• City of Brownsville (346), Brownsville (250);
• Crooked Creek (186), Jefferson (77);
• City of Hokah (355), Hokah (354), Union (218), Mound Prairie (408);
• La Crescent, precinct one (1,475);
• La Crescent, precinct two (1,275), precinct three (423);
• La Crescent (988).
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