Vote centers inconvenient for students

James Vaughn

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In 2010, students in the Political Science Society (PSS) fought to have Precinct 8’s polling place moved to USI. The success was short-lived when Vanderburgh County  switched to vote centers.

Now students with no reliable transportation will have to find a way to the polls once again.

During the eight months that senior political science major John Siepierski led PSS’s efforts to bring a polling place to campus, it became clear that several key county officials were hostile to the notion of students having a voice in politics, he said.

“In my interactions with these officials, I was yelled at, I was accused of being disrespectful and I was frequently ignored,” Siepierski said.

He said he got the sense that members of the county government believed that USI students don’t count as real Vanderburgh County residents.


 

It was only after PSS’ efforts drew considerable local media attention that the polling place was moved to campus.

After every census, state governments redraw congressional districts and local governments redraw precincts.

“In Vanderburgh County’s case, the election board did away with precincts altogether, and, surprise, USI lost its polling place,” Siepierski said.

If students attempted to bring a voting center to USI, they’d face some new challenges.

In 2010, they argued that Perry Township’s polling place was located outside of the precinct, which was a direct violation of Indiana election law.

With vote centers, there is no violation of Indiana statue.

“It’s every bit as much an issue as it was in 2010,” Siepierski said. “Once again, USI students don’t have a fair opportunity to have our say in local, state and national politics.”

He said if students need a ride to the polls on Election Day, they can contact him at jwsiepiers@eagles.usi.edu and he’d be happy to drive them.

He hasn’t heard any talk about an attempt to bring a vote center to USI, he said.

Vanderburgh County Clerk Suzan Kirk said there is too much going on at a school, especially on a Tuesday, for USI to be considered for a vote center. In July 2011, Kirk sat down with the Democratic and Republican County Chairmen and one to two representatives from each party to discuss the best locations for vote centers.

Though 70 percent of the vote centers were existing polling places, they had to make sure each location could accommodate more people and more parking, she said.

“There are no longer four or five boxes,” Kirk said. “We’re working with 20 to 25 boxes per location.”

During the brief period of time that Precinct 8’s polls were on campus, they were located in the Residence Life Center.

“Because of that specific area, there was nowhere near enough parking to accommodate the amount of people that we need to,” Kirk said.

She said most people, including students, have vehicles.

“We live in a fast-paced society now,” Kirk said. “Students aren’t stuck at school all the time – they can’t be. I’m sure they find a way to get out and get groceries and other items they need.”

She said there are plenty of opportunities for early voting, including polls at the Red Bank Library. Sophomore history major Joseph Kenney doesn’t have a vehicle and has no idea how he’s getting to the polls on election day, he said.

“If there was a voting center at USI, it would allow more students to have a voice in this election,” Kenney said.

He tries to buy everything he needs before school starts, he said.

“The bus system here is unreliable and my roommate works a lot,” Kenney said. “If I do need something I wait until he goes or a friend goes.”

The switch to vote centers has led to fewer places to vote across the city and county.

“In my neighborhood there is no voting center and I think there might only be three in my entire zip code,” said Mary Morris, chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration.

It becomes a problem for students who now have to travel farther to vote, she said.

“For example, I live in Pigeon Township – a township that includes some of the poorest places in Evansville – yet the folks in that township have to travel farther to vote, which can be a serious inconvenience if you don’t have reliable transportation,” Morris said. “Although you can vote at any center, I really don’t think it is as convenient.”

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