Election changes discussed

June 13, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Representatives from the Washington County Board of Elections and the local Republican and Democratic parties say that changes being implemented in many states are good in theory but likely aren't the answer for increasing voter turnout in Washington County.

Dorothy Kaetzel, director of the elections board, said making major changes to election systems in the county, even if such changes are good ideas on the surface, could hurt the county because of costs or by alienating voters.

Among changes discussed were "no excuse" voting, which allows for more absentee ballots to be cast, the creation of large voting centers to replace voting at smaller, makeshift district centers and early voting initiatives.


At least 30 states have implemented changes to election rules in recent years.

Kaetzel said the concept of larger voting centers, which includes having more equipment and more trained staff to help voters, is likely cost prohibitive.

"To do it very well, we would need electronic poll books ... and they're not cheap," Kaetzel said. "I think it's a good idea, but it needs funding help to work."

She and county Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill said that Washington County's somewhat rural demographics, especially to the far east and west, might be too small to justify establishing voting centers.

"If you're in Hancock, would you rather drive all the way to a voting center or vote right in Hancock?" Hemphill asked.

He said a positive of the centers would be potential decreases in voter fraud because of better equipment and a more-knowledgeable volunteer staff.

Hemphill also said that spreading voting over several days could lead to voter manipulation on the part of those running campaigns.

Mark K. Boyer, who served on the Republican Central Committee from 1998 until earlier this year, said he believes an election that spanned days would lead to increases in cost and worry about the number of available volunteers to serve as election judges.

Boyer said he believes that in less-competitive elections, voters - believing that their candidate either had an insurmountable lead or was hopelessly behind - might stay away from the polls, significantly decreasing turnout.

"We have seen that in past national elections with turnout dropping off on the West Coast," said Boyer, who also supports keeping voting district/precincts to maintain the local feel of elections for residents.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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