Grand Forks city leaders will wait another two weeks to decide where voters hit the polls next year, voting 4-0 to table a selection process for the 2018 primary and general elections' voting locations.
The move will allow more city leaders to vote on the process. City Council members Dana Sande, Bret Weber and Danny Weigel were all absent from Tuesday evening's meeting, Weber has been described as especially interested in voting on the matter.
The delay also gives city leaders and the public more time to consider locations for 2018 voting, which has at times been a contentious issue in the past year. The 2018 plan city leaders are expected to pass has seven voting locations throughout the city, with one in wards 1 through 4, two for Ward 5 and one for Wards 6 and 7. It was approved in a 5-2 vote in committee last week.
That plan contrasts with some of the city's other options. Sande has advocated for one Alerus Center polling location for all of Grand Forks, which he said would provide simplicity. But that system came under fire when it was used in this year's special elections on Arbor Park and the city's sales tax, raising concerns that fewer election sites could reduce voter access.
State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks and the husband of City Council member Jeannie Mock, said he sent an email to City Council members suggesting several voting sites that all voters could use. But as City Clerk Sherie Lundmark pointed out at the meeting, current technology can't keep the pace with such a plan. As voters cast a ballot at one location, it's not detectable for other polling stations until votes are tallied at the end of the day, leading to problems sorting out potential voter fraud.
"I'm glad Corey brought it up, because I think it makes a lot of sense," City Council member Crystal Schneider said, though she agreed that it might not be possible to implement it yet. "It makes it far more convenient for people and far less confusing-(though) maybe not for the poll workers."
Schneider added that she's in favor of holding "as many polling locations as possible." Asked how she would reconcile that stance with the city's use of one polling site for two special elections earlier this year-on Arbor Park and the city's sales tax-Schneider said those elections didn't require ward-by-ward decisions.
The discussion comes as C.T. Marhula continues a lawsuit against the city that alleges leaders exceeded their authority when they held all voting on the Arbor Park matter at the Alerus Center. That suit is pending before the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The voting locations are expected to be next addressed by the council Dec. 18.
• City leaders also voted 3-1 to offer approval to a yearlong extension of a special city housing incentive that offers a delay on special assessment payments. Now new developments have until November 2019 to qualify for the deferral, a move that benefits a development by Crary Real Estate in the south end with more than 100 units that would have otherwise missed the deadline. City Council member Jeannie Mock dissented.
• The City Council voted 4-0 on its consent agenda to award a $4.6 million contract to Reede Construction Inc., for part of a $6.4 million reconstruction project along North 42nd Street between University Avenue and Gateway Drive next year. The city's cost share on the project is expected to come to $1.8 million.
• City leaders also gave a 4-0 preliminary vote to update local code on the body art industry, creating licensing provisions for "temporary or mobile" facilities and tightening safety regulations elsewhere. The move further regulates many tattoo and piercing businesses.