Polling place changes

Howard County has one less polling place than it did year ago. Currently voters in the county can vote at nine places instead of the 10 it had in the last election.

As always, it boils down to money. Each voting machine costs $10,508 per precinct. When looking at upgrading the equipment the county has used since 2006, supervisors decided that going down one precinct was the solution to saving a little money.

Unfortunately, the precinct that closed was the one at Chester. It included the City of Chester and townships of Chester and Oak Dale. From now on, during primary and general elections (even years), Oak Dale voters will go to Riceville and those from Chester will be going to Saratoga Town Hall. During the city election years (odd years), the voting machine will be available in Chester as usual.

Some from Chester may argue that Lime Springs is closer than Saratoga, which is true. However, there are some voters who currently travel 10-15 miles to vote in some of the other voting precincts. By law, though, voters cannot cross supervisor lines.

Jan McGovern is the supervisor for District 3, the affected area. Board of Supervisors and Julie Chapman, County Auditor, looked at which precinct to close and it came down to Chester or New Oregon/Protivin, which is in District 2, with Don Burnikel.

Looking at the numbers for Chester/Oak Dale, only 12 locals voted in the 2012 primary, and four of those were absentee votes, out of 320 registered voters. In the general election, 152 voters plus 76 absentees cast votes.

In comparison, during the 2012 primary, 29 voted at the polls in Protivin with no absentee votes. There were 565 registered voters. During the general election, 282 voted in addition to 152 absentee.

These numbers were all down from 2010.

A public hearing was held on Feb. 18, during a weekly supervisor meeting, to vote on the precincts. The decision was made to close the Chester polls during primary and general elections.

Historically, as far back as 1963, the county had 19 polling places. In 2003, there were 17. That changed in 2004 when new machines were purchased.

Chapman said she understands that changing polling places is inconvenient, but was quick to point out absentee ballots are always an option.

“We are required by law to send out absentee ballots, and it doesn’t cost the voter anything. Many people also come into the Auditor’s office when they are in Cresco when it is convenient for them,” she said. The auditor welcomes any questions regarding absentee voting or about voting in general. Call the office at 563-547-9203.

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