Officials simplify voting by entralizing polling places

Providing a centralized polling place should eliminate confusion about where residents cast ballots in upcoming elections, say Moffat County officials.

During Monday's Board of Commissioners meeting, Moffat County Clerk Elaine Sullivan said she would like to relocate Craig's nine voting precincts to the Centennial Mall.

Polling locations in Maybell, Hamilton and Dinosaur won't be affected by the move.

The commission approved the resolution for a centralized polling location for this year's August and November elections but the issue will be brought back at a later date for final approval.

A centralized voting location should eliminate much of the runaround voters experienced last November after many stood in long lines waiting to cast ballots only to be directed to their correct precinct at another end of town, Sullivan said.

The change of venue should also save the county dollars by consolidating the use of mandated voting equipment and eliminating some personnel costs by hiring fewer election judges, she added.

"I think this will be a positive step because everybody will know where they need to go to vote," Sullivan said.

Centennial Mall has handicapped access and plenty of parking.

Centennial Mall Property Manager Vicki Hall approved of the plan, though she hasn't had a chance yet to tell shop owners of the decision.

Election officials are only required to supply four countywide polling places for "coordinated elections," such as last November's off-year election. Coordinated elections generally have lower voter turnout.

But Colorado's primary election Aug. 10 and the general election Nov. 2 would require 13 precincts countywide. In years past, polling locations have been spread out among area schools and other facilities.

Many of those places are becoming inadequate as the numbers of county voters increase, creating longer lines of voters. Some of these polling places also have limited parking.

According to the Help America Vote Act or HAVA enacted in 2002, Moffat County Elections department will have to meet a set of voting standards by 2006.

One of those mandates is buying machines that are voter-friendly for those with disabilities. Moffat County would need to supply one direct recording electronic (DRE) system at each precinct.

Lila Herod, Moffat County's Chief Deputy Clerk expects each machine will cost between $3,000 and $5,000.

Though federal funds should cover some of those costs, she doubts all those dollars will trickle down to local governments.

By combining a number of Craig's voting precincts under one roof, the Moffat County election department wouldn't have to purchase as many DREs, she said.

"We're trying to find creative ways to make all this work," Herod said.

A Moffat County election judge for the past 15 years, Georgina McAnally said it made sense to combine the local polling places.

"I think it will be good (to have polling in one place) if it's not just for one year, but for all elections," she said.

McAnally said a centralized polling place may have the effect of increasing voter turnout.

It's hard to know if frustrated voters who showed up at the improper polling places last November proceeded to cast ballots at the correct places.

"After some people stood in line at (Craig) City Hall for two hours you wonder if they went to the courthouse to vote," McAnally said. "You never know."

Early voting will still be available at the Moffat County Courthouse and absentee voting will go unchanged, Sullivan said.

County election officials plan to ask for party consent on the polling consolidation plan.

"I just know that voters are going to love it," Herod said. "This will alleviate the lines. I think it will be really positive."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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