NEWARK- Buckeye Lake and Union Township officials joined government officials from all over Licking County Tuesday afternoon, asking the Licking County Board of Elections to restore local polling places in their communities.
To cut costs, the board combined polling places all over the county. Locally, Buckeye Lake voters were forced to travel seven miles outside of the village to vote at the Union Township Complex on Beaver Run Road after the board shut down Buckeye Lake’s polling place at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, as well as Hebron’s polling place at the American Legion Hall. Union Township residents were moved from Infirmary Mound Park to the township complex as well.
Former Buckeye Lake Village Council member Kaye Hartman said Buckeye Lake Village is the most southern municipality in Licking County, and the village is home to many elderly and impoverished residents, who may not have the resources to travel outside their community to vote. “We do not have a lot of houses in Buckeye Lake with two cars sitting in the driveway,” she said, asking board of elections members to reconsider sending Buckeye Lake voters to the Union Township Complex. “That’s too far to walk or hitchhike from Buckeye Lake,” said Hartman. “We would love to have our place back at Buckeye Lake.”
Buckeye Lake Mayor Clay Carroll agreed the village is home to many elderly and impoverish residents, many of whom don’t have regular access to vehicles. “They rely on walking to fulfill many of their needs,” he said, adding that not many residents took advantage of rides to the Union Township Complex that volunteers provided. He said voting was down 36 percent from a previous election-a direct effect of moving the polls. He said returning Buckeye Lake’s polling place to the village would “preserve the right to vote” and be safer than driving to Beaver Run Road.
Buckeye Lake Council member Peggy Wells presented board of elections members with a resolution Buckeye Lake Council members unanimously approved requesting restoration of Buckeye Lake’s polling place.
“The Village of Buckeye Lake recognizes your need to cut costs,” said Wells in a statement to the board of elections. “With flat or even declining revenues, government at all levels is facing difficulty meeting the increasing demand for services. In consolidating our two precincts into one, your personnel costs have been cut in half. We have no objection to that cost saving measure.
“Cost savings must be balanced with keeping our constitutional enshrined right to vote accessible to all citizens regardless of age, income, or access to transportation. Moving our voting place from a centrally located, pedestrian accessible location to a rural location seven miles away doesn’t provide reasonable access for all voters and, in effect, has disenfranchised some residents.”
Wells continued, “Your own statistics confirm our fears-this last election resulted in the lowest percentage turnout of the last 14 elections (going back to 2000) and lowest number of participating voters in that same period. This occurred in spite of a hotly contested three-candidate race for village mayor, a very controversial fire levy renewal, and a strong local effort to voters to vote by mail.
“As one of Licking County’s poorest communities, your cost cutting is having disparate impact on elderly and low-income voters who either didn’t have access to transportation or extra funds for postage to vote by mail.
“Union Township has expressed concern about being able to handle all of the Village of Buckeye Lake, Village of Hebron, and Union Township voters during a gubernatorial or presidential election. Restoring a polling place in Buckeye Lake will alleviate its concern and ensure all voters have reasonable access to a polling place.”
Union Township Administrator Paula Greene told the board of elections the township is happy to offer the township complex for Union Township voters, but it’s tough to accommodate Buckeye Lake and Hebron villages. She said the complex hosted 100 voters per hour in November with a 20 percent voter turnout. “If there’s a major election, we’re in trouble,” she said.
Greene added that township officials were not adequately notified of the change in polling places. “We found out when everyone else found out,” she said. “We’d like to see everyone vote in their own communities.”
“It seems we’re trying to discourage people from casting their votes,” said former Buckeye Lake Village Council President Charlene Hayden. She said voting is an important individual right. “Please keep the Buckeye Lake polling place open,” said Hayden.
Licking County Board of Elections Director Sue Penick said the board would meet to discuss the comments at 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 24. Board members will inspect suggested alternative polling places to determine if they are ADA compliant. Penick said the board would likely make decisions regarding the polling places during a tobe scheduled meeting in March.
Board of Elections Deputy Director Gloria Carson said previously that the board consolidated precincts from 125 precincts county-wide to 95. She said the county saves $500 per precinct on poll workers and fewer precincts also reduces voting machine delivery costs.