The Porter County
Council said there were a lot of unanswered questions related to Porter
County Clerk Jessica Bailey’s proposal to buy a utility vehicle that could
become a mobile vote center.
The Council tabled
Bailey’s request for a transfer of $62,000 from her maintenance agreement
line item to her motor vehicles fund to buy the utility vehicle, which
Bailey said would resemble a V-Line or senior center bus.
Having the vehicle
would make the Elections Division more independent in terms of transporting
voting machines and other equipment. The new voting machines must be
transported upright, which requires a tall vehicle with a lift, Bailey said.
Bailey said she
borrowed the Coroner’s van to transport machines to and from poll worker
education classes and early vote sites for the primary and rented vans for
those purposes for the general election this year. A lot of time and money
went into renting and borrowing this year, and that’s not convenient for
anyone, Bailey said.
The utility vehicle
she wants to buy would be used to transport equipment, but also to hold
voter registration events and potentially as a mobile vote center.
The vehicle she
wants would have the seats removed from the back for cargo space and could
be used as a mobile vote center if it were equipped with electricity and a
battery back-up system to run e-poll books. It would also be ADA-accessible,
since it has a lift, she said.
The mobile vote
center could go to densely populated areas or special events where voting
isn’t usually available. Mobile vote centers are not in use anywhere in
Indiana that Bailey knows of, but other Indiana counties are talking about
it, and it has been implemented in other states where it has come up as a
way to increase voter turnout and make voting easier.
Bailey noted early
voting has been on the rise, but not everyone can vote early. “Our early
voting is 8:30 to 3:30,” Bailey said. “If you’re on the train to Chicago, if
you’re a shift worker, or a teacher, you’re not making it. On Saturdays, a
lot of people don’t want to wait in long lines.”
Elections staff would have to make a schedule and notify voters where mobile
voting would be available, and the vehicle could be used the same way as an
early vote location. A bipartisan team would run it and later transport
ballots to a secure location. The vehicle could be stored at the Valparaiso
highway department garage, Bailey said.
The Council members
agreed they want to see increased voter turnout, but had reservations about
a mobile vote center.
Vice-president Jeff Larson, R-At-Large, asked if the Elections &
Registration Board, which Bailey is an ex officio member of, is on board
with the idea. Bailey said they haven’t expressed opposition, but they
haven’t voted, as they normally don’t vote on her expenses. Bailey, however,
said she’s been in contact with the Indiana Elections Division, and they
like the idea. The local Election Board has the final say on how the utility
vehicle is used, however.
Larson had more
concerns, including whether expanding early voting might be less costly to
the County and how insurance liability would work for a mobile vote site.
Bailey said she’s definitely in favor of expanding early voting, and the
Election Board will be discussing it next year anyway.
D-At-Large, said she’s 100 percent behind Bailey’s efforts, but there are a
lot of unanswered questions. Mike Jessen, R-4th, said approval from the
Election Board is important to him, and he’d like to hear how mobile vote
centers have worked in other municipalities.
Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, suggested Bailey come back with more specifics on
logistics and how she plans to attract people to a mobile vote site. “I like
all the things you said, but I want to make sure that’s how it’s going to
end up,” he said.
D-2nd, said, “I applaud what you’re doing, this is thinking out of the box.”
Rivas was the lone no vote against tabling the discussion.
After the vote,
Larson said nobody wants to stand in the way of increasing early voting.
Rivas responded that six of them just did.
Larson said he and
Whitten have long discussed a way to honor Porter County residents who have
served, and they settled on presenting awards at Council meetings.
Veteran’s Services Jim Atkinson honored Veteran Don Davis for his work with
the American Legion and Pines Village Retirement Communities CEO Laurie
Mullet for her support of local veterans. Atkinson said both Davis and
Mullet have done great things for veterans and for the aging community in
Larson said the
Council would be happy to hear from the public about more people they should
honor at their meetings.
Court Judge Mary Harper came before the Council for what is likely the last
time in her career in the Porter Circuit Court, to request a $5,000 transfer
for hourly pay for a law clerk. Harper is retiring after 35-years.
Whitten said Harper
will be missed, and Graham thanked Harper for her service. Harper said it’s
been her honor to serve, and the Council has been a great group of people to
approved an additional appropriation so Porter County Parks Superintendent
Walter Lenckos can make the last payment on the new Horton Children’s Center
at Sunset Hill Farm County Park. Council member Greg Simms, D-3rd, also
commented that the new building is great.
The Council passed
the 2020 salary ordinance on first reading, then suspended it rules to pass
the ordinance the same night. County employees are getting a 3 percent raise