GREENSBURG — Following months of contentious debate, talk of lawsuits and several draft proposals, the Decatur County Election Board will vote tonight on the most recent version of its proposal to convert the county’s current voting structure to a Vote Center system.
The Decatur County Election Board will hold a public meeting on the draft at 7 p.m., tonight at the Decatur County Courthouse. Following public comment on the current draft, the Board will hold a formal vote. If the draft is unanimously by the three-member Election Board, the draft will then be considered by the County Council; the Council would need only a majority vote to set the Vote Center draft into motion as an actual plan.
Westport Town Council President Bryan Gatewood has been a vocal opponent of the Vote Center plan, arguing, among other things, that a legitimate need to revamp the current system has yet to be demonstrated.
Wednesday afternoon, Gatewood told the Daily News that, while he still doesn’t favor a switch to Vote Centers, he’s markedly more comfortable with the draft the Election Board will vote on tonight compared to previous drafts.
“I just want to be sure Westport gets a Vote Center in their final version,” he said, adding that the earlier Vote Center drafts left Westport out of the equation.
According to Decatur County Deputy Clerk Faith Koors, the draft considered Thursday night will include eight Vote Centers throughout the county. Two centers would be located in Greensburg, with one each in Westport and the townships of Clay, Fugit, Marion, Salt Creek and Adams.
Gatewood conceded that the draft proposal up for consideration at tonight’s meeting does a reasonable job covering the entire county. He was skeptical, however, that the citizens of Greensburg will ever accept only two Vote Centers within the city.
“I don’t know if they’ll approve the Vote Center plan or not [on Thursday night],” he said. “If they vote it down completely, that’s fine with me; it wouldn’t break my heart.”
Gatewood has also voiced concerns over the costs of switching to a Vote Center system.
“We as a county need more time to look at this,” he said, “more time to look at what other counties are doing and to analyze the numbers as to what the actual costs will be. The numbers have been changing with each version.”
Gatewood added that, in his capacity as a representative for Westport, he never proposed a lawsuit.
“I think that was private citizens talking about lawsuits,” he said, adding that, as an elected representative of Westport, he feels satisfied with the flexibility the Election Board has demonstrated in working with him to create an acceptable draft of the Vote Center proposal.
Still, Gatewood has been, overall, very dissatisfied with the way the Election Board has handled the process of drafting and presenting its numerous Vote Center proposals.
“I think the tail has been wagging the dog a little bit here,” he said. “For one, they [the Election Board] didn’t follow the process detailed on the state’s website. They didn’t show me any documentation that they had researched this and gauged public interest before they even floated their first plan. As far as I can tell, I think they used the community meetings to gauge public interest [regarding the switch to a Vote Center system].”
According to Gatewood’s understanding of the process, public interest in a Vote Center system is supposed to be researched and documented before a draft is created.
“I would’ve liked to have seen this come from county leadership down to the incorporated towns, rather than led out of the Clerk’s Office,” he said. “The County Council has much broader representation and a much better pulse on the overall county as a whole than the clerk’s office does.”
Although the Decatur County Commissioners signed off on the Election Board’s Vote Center plan, Gatewood believes the Commissioners were misled.
“I find it hard to believe they couldn’t have understood the implications [of the plan] for smaller towns,” he said. “I asked them to repeal the resolution but they didn’t do so. Either the Commissioners were snookered or didn’t understand the complete ramifications.”
The County Council, on the other hand, voted not to proceed with the Vote Centers, giving rise, Gatewood said, to several community meetings on the issue.
Even if the pending draft is approved by the Election Board at tonight’s meeting, the County Council can still put a halt to the plan with a simple majority vote.
Koors said she has no idea how the vote will go at tonight’s meeting. She did say, however, that, based on public phone calls to the County Clerk’s Office over the last several days, she suspects there will be several more people voicing opinions in favor of the pending plan compared to previous public meetings.
Moreover, Koors believes a small, yet vocal contingent of opponents to the Vote Center plan has captured a disproportionate share of the spotlight at previous public meetings. Thursday’s meeting, she said, may well reveal significant public support for converting Decatur County to a Vote Center system.
Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011