Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 5, 2014

DAVID THARP: Howard Co. Republicans derail vote center discussion

Republicans owe it to voters to compromise.

Kokomo Tribune

---- — Last March, Howard County Clerk Kim Wilson tried to push through a half-formed vote center measure that violated the state guidelines for instituting a vote center plan. When Clerk Wilson was questioned on why she was trying to pass an illegal plan, she said she hadn’t read all of the law and that the county would have to start over.

Vote centers can make voting simpler and more accessible for the voter, and can make the whole process cheaper for the taxpayer. With vote centers, you can choose to go to a polling place that is on the way to work, or near school or while running errands. They can provide flexibility and decrease confusion about where you go to cast your ballot.

Vote centers can address these issues, but only when instituted properly.

The highly partisan plan offered by Clerk Wilson and supported by Howard County Republican Chairman Craig Dunn would actually make it harder to vote. They only want 10 vote center locations in Howard County, and only want four of those to be inside Kokomo city limits. That means 70 percent of the county’s population would only be directly serviced by 40 percent of the vote centers. Chairman Dunn is now refusing to compromise, saying, “We’re going to have 10 as long as I’m chairman.” That doesn’t seem like a very voter-friendly plan, does it?

With Kim Wilson, the Republican clerk, botching the planning process, and Craig Dunn, the Republican chairman, refusing to compromise for the good of the voters and taxpayers of Howard County, it is clear they are not serious about making voting easier. Mismanagement of our election process and a “my way or the highway” partisan political approach to voting have no place in our local government.

The Republicans refuse to allow more than 10 locations for voters to cast their ballots, but this is far from enough. Take a look at the plans submitted by surrounding counties. Cass County’s plan proposes to have one vote center for every 5,511 residents, Miami County’s has one for every 5,212, and Wabash County’s plan has one for every 3,595. Transferring those plans to Howard County’s population of 82,849 would result in 15, 15.89, and 23 vote centers, respectively.

I’m previously on record as saying we should have between 22-25 vote centers. Though I still would argue that is a preferred number, I am willing to compromise in order to bring vote centers to Howard County. Based on the number of vote center locations being used in surrounding counties, it seems entirely reasonable we should be able to compromise on around 18 vote centers in Howard County. It also seems reasonable to locate the centers in the most highly populated and accessible areas of our community. Vote centers should be predominantly located in walkable, neighborhood-focused areas and not separated from population centers by state roads. Additionally, they should be located on, or very near, existing public transportation lines.

In short, the number of vote centers, and where they are located, should be determined by asking “what is better for the voter?” and not “what is better for the Republican Party?”

The Howard County Democratic Party is committed to advancing the vote center concept. That is why I was optimistic when Clerk Wilson decided to form a vote center committee last summer. Unfortunately my optimism was short-lived as she has not called a single meeting of that committee, nor corresponded with the members of the committee. This is yet another example of Clerk Wilson’s mismanagement and failure to follow through on her supposed commitment to vote centers.

Even though we cannot have vote centers this year, there is still so much we can accomplish to make voting easier and more accessible in 2014. We can, and should, set up multiple satellite voting centers in order to make early voting easier. The normal early voting hours of 8 a.m.-4 p.m. are too restrictive for folks who work, go to school, or who are active in their children’s extracurricular activities. Therefore, the satellite voting locations should be open during the evening hours as well. We should also join other communities in the state by allowing more Saturday and Sunday voting options.

I join with the Kokomo Tribune’s editorial board in calling for both parties to compromise. The Howard County Democratic Party is at the negotiating table; we are just waiting for the Republican Party to put politics aside and join us.

David Tharp is chairman of the Howard County Democratic Party. Contact him at davidlewis.tharp@gmail.com.