NEWARK- The Licking County Board of Elections decided Tuesday night to move Buckeye Lake Village and Hebron’s voting place to New Life United Methodist Church on West Main Street (US 40) in Hebron for the May election.
That’s about five miles closer to Buckeye Lake Village than the Union Township Complex, where Buckeye Lake, Hebron, and Union Township residents voted last November. But it’s not within walking distance or close enough for the Buckeye Lake representatives who asked the board to restore a polling place within the village. Union Township residents will continue to vote at the township complex.
To cut costs, the board of elections consolidated the county’s 125 precincts into 95 for the November election. 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.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Buckeye Lake Village Council member Peggy Wells, adding that Buckeye Lake Village was well represented at the Feb. 11 meeting. “I thought we made a strong case” to the board of elections to reopen a polling place in Buckeye Lake Village, she said.
Wells proposed the resolution that council members unanimously approved asking that a local polling place be reopened.
The resolution said, “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 told board members, “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.”
Licking County Board of Elections Director Sue Penick said there are no current plans to reopen a polling place in Buckeye Lake, but voter turnout and organization would be reviewed following each election.
“That certainly is a better location than the Union Township Complex. However, it will not help those who would normally walk to the polls and have no other way to get there,” said former Buckeye Lake Village Council President Charlene Hayden, who spoke at the February board of elections meeting. “I find it discouraging that our government leaders are making the right to vote so challenging. Our government should be doing everything possible to make voting easier.” She said she hopes voters know about the change in polling site earlier than they did for the November elections. “I also think we will need to make sure our residents understand how to vote absentee and know that their vote is counted. We may also need to offer some transportation to the polls like we did in November.”
“It’s certainly better for our residents,” said Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason. He said New Life Church is closer for Hebron residents than the township complex, and New Life Church is a “fine facility and should work well for Hebron.”
Union Township Trustee President Rick Black said the trustees may consider paving some of the Union Township Complex parking lot to make the building better handicap accessible since it appears Union Township voters will continue to vote there.
Buckeye Lake Mayor Clay Carroll could not be reached for comment.