Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sedwick County Voter Coalition presses the case: Commissioners agree to reopen discussion on adding more polling places

Long time readers of this blog may remember that back in August, the Wichita Branch and the other members of the Sedgwick County Voter Coalition began a campaign to increase the number of polling sites and voting machines to be used in the 08 Presidential Elections. (links - petition to the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners : Commissioners earmark $100,000.00 for new voting machines : Voter Education Strategy


Yesterday, after a presentation by Branch and Coalition member Dr. Walt Chappell, the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners agreed to restart discussions on the increase with a workshop to be held on March 25th. The County Election Commissioner has also agreed to participate in the workshop. Below, I've reposted an article from today's Wichita Eagle describing the presentation and decision along with a link to the Eagle site...

Reposted from the Wichta Eagle 03/06/08

BY DION LEFLER

With record voter turnout expected across the country this November, Sedgwick County officials have agreed to look at whether the county has enough places to vote.

Commissioners agreed to hold a workshop on increasing the number of polling places after a presentation Wednesday by Walt Chappell, who plans to run again after losing a narrow 2006 race to state Rep. Brenda Landwehr.

The idea of more polling places also has support from the Sedgwick County Voting Coalition, a network of 27 voting-rights groups that includes the League of Women Voters. [-and the Wichita Branch NAACP-]

County Election Commissioner Bill Gale said later that he plans to attend the workshop.
But the number of polling places is one of the least important factors in increasing turnout and getting voters through the process efficiently, he said.

Debacle or success?
The 2006 election was the first major test of the voting system after Gale reduced polling sites from 208 to 63. Based on the same turnout numbers, Chappell said the election was a debacle, while Gale characterized it as a success.

Chappell said he thinks the cut in polling places suppressed voting in his 91st District race.
He presented commissioners with spreadsheets showing that 809 fewer votes were cast in the district in 2006 than in the last gubernatorial election in 2002.

"Hundreds of voters were unable to vote in 2006 because the lines were too long, there was not enough parking and it takes too much time for each voter to cast their ballot on the electronic voting machines," he said. Comparing 2002 to 2006, Chappell's report showed a decline in voting in 13 of 24 House districts.

Overall, voting was essentially flat -- a .004 percent increase -- despite a big jump in voters in growing suburban districts west and north of Wichita, the report showed. After the 2006 election, Chappell challenged the accuracy of the county's touch-screen voting machines. A manual recount found no errors.

Commission concerns
On Wednesday, Gale looked at Chappell's turnout numbers and came to a different conclusion.
He said the fact that more people voted at 63 polling places than at the 208 that preceded them shows the new system works. He predicted it will work a lot better than the old system did in the 2004 presidential election, when near-record turnout swamped the smaller polling sites and some voters faced two-hour waits.

The new voting machines are faster than the old ones, and paper ballots will be available to move voters through if lines become excessive, he said. An expansion of early voting sites from two to 16 since the 2004 vote also has eased pressure on election day, he said.
Chappell asked that the county add at least 20 more polling places in the most heavily affected areas. Gale said adding polling places now would confuse voters, who are used to their new sites after the 2006 election and last year's special election on casino gambling. "One of the more frequent calls I used to get was, 'You changed my polling place again?' " Gale said. "Those weren't friendly calls." Chappell looked mildly surprised when commissioners agreed to further talks.

"We do have some concerns about this," said Commission Chairman Tom Winters. The discussion has been set for the commission's regular staff meeting March 25. It is open to the public and will begin at 9 a.m. in the commission room at the county courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita.

1 Click HERE to POST or READ the latest comments!!!:

mschumey07 March 6, 2008 at 11:18 PM  

Decreasing voting centers has been used in the Philippines mainly for cheating. Voters are disenfranchised and those coming from far districts lose interest in elections. This is a deprivation of the right vote.

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