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Letter: With election, City Council falls short

To the editor,

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the City Council of Grand Forks voted 6-0 to establish the Alerus Center as the sole polling place for the Nov. 7 election. This action made it extremely difficult for persons who rely on public transportation and do not live near the Alerus Center to access the polls.

In effect, this is voter suppression by income. Despite assertions to the contrary, absentee voting does not alleviate this problem. It has its own complications.

According to the Herald article published Sept. 6, the City Council discussed three difficulties with polling by precinct.

One was the cost involved. I checked with the finance office at City Hall and was informed that the estimated cost of full precinct voting was $15,000 to $20,000. This is about .007 percent of the 2017 budget of $281 million. Comparatively, the cost is not significant.

Also cited was the decreasing availability of polling sites. According to city records, in 2016 12 polling sites were identified for 19 residents. This is down one from 2014, when 13 polling sites were designated. In 2016 two more precincts would need to share a polling place. This is not the ideal, but neither is it broken.

City Council also discussed the difficulty that exists in obtaining enough poll workers. I have witnessed this twice as an election inspector. It is true the auditor's office has had to work very hard, but it is also true they have gotten the job done.

Difficulties regarding polling sites and volunteers are not going away. Ideally there should be 19 polling sites, one located in each precinct. And it would be better for everyone if the auditor's office did not have to scramble for poll workers.

It is time for some creative thinking. Can there be incentives for opening polling sites? Can there be an outreach program to secure more volunteers?

Any fixes to precinct voting must be measured against the outcome of making voting equally available to all qualified residents. By designating only one polling place, the City Council has fallen far short of this mark.

Ron Franz

Grand Forks