FORT WAYNE – A proposal to eliminate the Board of Voter Registration and place the offices duties and responsibilities under the jurisdiction of the clerk of courts died Friday after Allen County Commissioner Linda Bloom said no.
Moving forward with the issue required two unanimous decisions – one from the commissioners and one from the Allen County Election Board.
The Election Board and Voter Registration are two separate departments within the same building at 1 W. Superior St.
The Election Board performs administrative functions of the election process, while Voter Registration is responsible for processing new registrations, maintaining the voter database, corresponding with new voters, assigning voters to precincts and preparing statistical reports.
Although Commissioners Nelson Peters and Therese Brown tried to persuade Bloom that a yes vote would result in more streamlined local government and would be more cost-effective and efficient for the public, Bloom was not convinced. She said she wants time to give Voter Registration and the Election Board a chance to communicate with the clerk of courts and create a plan that pleases all sides, which she said has not been done.
I dont think I can vote for this, Bloom said.
Im not at all surprised by your flip-flop on this issue, Peters told Bloom. But I am confused.
Peters said he thought the commissioners were all in agreement that the merger was the best route to take. Brown agreed and also tried to persuade Bloom to vote yes.
There are drafts to show how this would work and there have been numerous discussions, Brown said. Voters would not be disenfranchised in any way.
Allen County Democratic Chairman John Court and Republican Chairman Steve Shine both said the bipartisan office should not be placed under an elected officials jurisdiction. Clerk Lisa Borgmann is a Republican.
Maye Johnson, a Democrat who serves on the Board of Voter Registration, was in the crowded commissioners courtroom and said she was pleased with the outcome.
She was right, Johnson said of Bloom.
Although Brown and Peters reiterated that there had been numerous meetings in the past 18 months to discuss the issue, Johnson said that with the exception of a public meeting in December, Voter Registration officials were not included in those meetings.
I am all for improving the process, but it certainly should include Voter Registration, Johnson said.
The three members who make up the election board are Borgmann, Republican representative Zachary Klutz and Democratic member Andrew Boxberger.
We have a proven bipartisan system that provides a day-to-day, week-to-week system of checks and balances, Johnson said. This system eliminates any question of partisanship.
A state law enacted two years ago allows county governments to make the decision to merge Voter Registration with the clerks office. Bloom pointed out that the 72 counties that had taken advantage of the new law were not as large as Allen County.
Of the larger counties our size – Marion, LaPorte, Vanderburgh – none have merged, Bloom said.
Brown disagreed, pointing out that Elkhart County merged its two departments soon after the new law allowed it.
Things became tense when Bloom asked whose plan it was.
If there is a game plan, was it given to the people involved or is this a commissioner plan? Bloom asked.
Brown said it was a time-sensitive issue and a decision had to be made by July 1 for the departments to begin working to prepare for the next election.
I still have not heard any good reasons from Linda (Bloom) or the three callers I had that offer a good reason why this should not happen, Peters said.
Pamela Pfrang, who was in the audience, said the bipartisan basis of Voter Registration should be maintained now and in the future.
Nationally, there have been many incidents to shake the confidence of voters, Pfrang said. Why would we want that to happen here?
At the very least, (merging) gives the appearance of impropriety.
Bloom said she was not convinced that the office should be under the clerk or that a decision was needed so quickly.
Not everything that could have been done has been done, she said. It makes me sad. This is a bipartisan office were talking about.
The issue can be revisited, although no timeline was set by the commissioners. But even if the commissioners approve it, a second unanimous vote would have to come from the Election Board.