Voter Dissatisfaction Over Polling Places Comes Before Supervisors
After the contentious national general elections earlier in the month, some continued unrest and dissatisfaction with the election process in Palo Alto County surfaced at the Nov. 18 meeting of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors. A group of 20 residents from the Booth and Silver Lake Townships around Ayrshire brought their frustrations over the recent election to the supervisors with one basic question – “Why don’t we vote in Ayrshire anymore?”
Allen Stangl, a Booth Township Trustee, served as the spokesman for the group. “Our primary reason for being here is we want to know why we don’t vote in Ayrshire anymore and my first question would be why did Ayrshire lose the voting machine?”
Supervisor Ron Graettinger responded to the question. “The main reason you lost your voting machine in Ayrshire wasn’t because of the people or anything, its because the state came in an d said we had to cut our precincts by 50 percent, because we were getting money for new voting machines.”
“So this was a decision of the Board of Supervisors and the Auditor?” Stangl asked.
“It was a decision of the whole board and the Auditor because of what the state and the federal government came down with for the voting machine money,” Graettinger responded.
Stangl asked why a re-districting had to be done, and Graettinger explained that re-districting was required after every Census, so that each Supervisor represents s an equal number of residents in their district. “That changes because we don’t have the people anymore.”
“The voting machine that was in Ayrshire is now in Emmetsburg,” observed Supervisor Ed Noonan. “You didn’t cut down on precincts.”
“We combined precincts,” Graettinger answered. “We had 18 precincts and now we have 10.”
When asked what had been combined in terms of precincts, Auditor Gary Leonard explained that Silver Lake, the City of Ayrshire, Booth, Great Oak, Emmetsburg Township and Nevada were brought together and made into one district.
“I can understand where you might want the same amount of people,” Stangl said, “But I can’t understand you expecting people to drive 25 to 30 miles one way to vote for five minutes.”
“We don’t expect them to do that,” Graettinger said, “That’s why we have absentee ballots.”
“That’s not a good answer sir,” Stangl retorted.
“It isn’t?” Graettinger said in surprise. “Some states, that’s all they have.”
Stangl then explained he had checked with neighboring counties, and that it was his observation that the state mandate to reduce precincts seemed to only apply to Palo Alto County. Other counties have polling places in nearly every small town in their counties, but Palo Alto County only had 56 percent of its polling places in communities.
“You’re telling me the state hates Palo Alto County,” Stangl stated, “But the rest of these counties can have voting close for their people? That doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason you can sit here and tell me that we should have to drive from southwest Palo Alto County to Emmetsburg to vote when these counties have voting right next door.”
“This is not representation of taxpayers, “ Stangl continued, “It’s not right. The district is not right. It never should have been drawn so that somebody south of Emmetsburg should have to drive to Ayrshire to vote, but by the same token, people in southwest Palo Alto and Ayrshire should not have to drive to Emmetsburg to vote. “
As the discussion continued, Stangl dismissed the issue of trying to save money. “Saving money? We’ve got people who didn’t go vote at the last election.”
Strangle presented several petitions to the board, signed by people living in western Great Oak, Booth, and Silver Lake Townships, as well as the City of Ayrshire.
“These people who signed these petitions all asked why they couldn’t vote in Ayrshire,” Stangl said. “They find it a huge inconvenience to get in their car and drive as far as 30 miles one way to vote and to go back home. There’s no excuse for that. I think you’ve ignore the entire southwest corner of this county.”
After several more minutes of discussion, Leonard noted that it would cost approximately $10,000 to purchase an additional voting machine.
“It’s just going to take new machines,” noted Board Chairman Leo Goeders. “It looks like that’s what you want.”
“This is an important deal for these people,” Stangl said, “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have come here today to this meeting. This is wrong and it needs to be corrected before the next election in two years. Don’t make this a political thing and get nothing done.”
Supervisor Ed Noonan spoke up, “I’d support that.”
“I feel we’ve made a valid point,” Stangl said.
“I’d agree,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said,
“I think that map is pretty self-explanatory,” agreed Supervisor Keith Wirtz.
As the discussion wound down, a general agreement was reached to budget for an additional voting machine in the next year’s budget to address the issue.