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Roadblock For Ayrshire Polling Place

By Staff | Feb 5, 2009

The best intentions of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors to respond to a request by residents have met an unexpected roadblock, courtesy of the State of Iowa. A plan to re-establish a polling place in Ayrshire will have to wait until 2011, according to communication from the State Auditor’s Office.

After a group of residents from the southwestern portion of the county appeared before the supervisors late last year to ask that a polling place be restored in Ayrshire, the board agreed to purchase another voting machine to be located in Ayrshire. The request was made in view of the fact that residents living in Booth, Nevada, Great Oak and Silver Lake Townships were driving to Emmetsburg to vote, rather than being able to cast their ballots in Ayrshire, a more central location for the precinct.

As the board was reviewing some budget figures during its weekly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 3, a budget line of $11,000 for a voting machine brought the issue back to discussion. Palo Alto County Auditor Gary Leonard and deputy Robin Jamison brought up that the county could purchase an additional voting machine, but that machine could not be used for a general election until the next re-districting is completed.

“According to the Iowa Code, Chapter 49.3 and 49.4, you can’t change a polling place or divide a polling place until the next Census is taken,” Leonard pointed out.

“What?” Board Chair Ed Noonan responded. “We’re not dividing a polling place, we’re adding one. We’re not changing anything.”

“According to this information, you can’t do that,” Leonard replied. “We can put a machine in Ayrshire for a city election, but we can’t put one there for a general election until we do another re-districting after the Census in 2010.”

“That’s ridiculous, “ Noonan countered. “We told all those people who were in here that we were going to put a voting machine in Ayrshire and now we can’t? That makes us a big bunch of liars.”

“When the next Census comes out, the re-districting will change and we can do it then,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger said.

“Those people asked us a question of why couldn’t they vote in Ayrshire and we said yes, they could,” Noonan persisted.

“They’ll be able to after we re-district,” Leonard responded.

“That’s what I said when they were in here,” Graettinger spoke up.

Under Iowa law, voting precincts in counties are set up on the basis of population, rather than area. Each precinct is to have roughly the same population numbers as any other precinct in a county, which is why a re-districting is completed after every Census.

It was pointed out that when the county first received electronic voting machines, then-Secretary of State Chet Culver appeared before the supervisors to work out an arrangement to replace the county’s old manual lever voting machines. At that time, Culver had told the board that they would need to reduce the number of voting precincts and consolidate polling places.

“Chet Culver told us to cut back and combine,” Gary Leonard reminded Noonan.

“Chet Culver is not in charge of Palo Alto County,” Noonan replied. “We are – the board of supervisors.”

“This all came about because Palo Alto and six other counties were still using lever voting machines and one county had paper ballots, and the state got us that federal money to buy the electronic machines,” Graettinger emphasized.

“I thought that we had voted on buying a machine for Ayrshire when those folks were in here,” observed Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.

“You did,” Leonard confirmed. “You voted to purchase a machine, but I just can’t put a machine there until a re-districting is done.”

“Here we are, trying to get people to vote, and the state is telling us we cant put a voting machine out there for the people to vote on,” Ed Noonan said, shaking his head. “All those people left here believing they were getting a machine, and now they’ll learn everything we said that day was a lie.”

“You know, I’m like Jerry,” Supervisor Keith Wirtz said. “I remember voting that there would be a machine in Ayrshire for the next election.”

“Well, the way I read this notice from the state, we can’t divide up that precinct,” Noonan said. “But I think we could move the voting place. I’m going to call Des Moines and see if we couldn’t do that.”

With the issue at an apparent deadlock, the discussion came to a close.