Burleigh County officials are contemplating a reduction in polling sites for Bismarck and Lincoln voters from 24 in 2016 to just seven for future elections.
The seven locations would be universal, meaning residents could vote where it’s most convenient, rather than where they live. There would be ballots available at each location for each of the specific precincts.
The ideal sites would need to have sufficient parking and be able to accommodate large voter turnouts. Potential polling sites include the Bismarck Event Center, Evangel Assembly of God Church and the Burleigh County 4-H Building.
The Wilton, Wing, Sterling and Menoken polling locations would remain open for rural voters.
“Who are we doing this for? First and foremost, I’d say we’re doing it for the voters, for the taxpayers, for the electorates,” said County Auditor Kevin Glatt. “I think this is voter convenience. Citizens can vote near their home, near work, near school or anywhere that’s convenient.”
Thirty-five percent of the ballots cast in Burleigh County are cast prior to Election Day.
“When you look at that, why do we still need the same number of precincts that we had 20 or 30 years ago?” Glatt said. “People are showing us they don’t necessarily want to vote on Election Day. They want to vote when it’s convenient for them and, we think, where it’s convenient for them.”
In 2016, District 7 had eight locations to choose from, District 30 had four, District 32 had three with the Bismarck Event Center representing five precincts, District 35 had six and District 47 had 3 with Century Baptist Church representing two precincts. All in total, residents of Bismarck and Lincoln cast their ballots at 24 polling locations.
Representatives from the five districts were at Wednesday night’s special county commission meeting, many opposing the reduction in polling locations. Long lines, limited parking and the northerly locations of the proposed polling sites were all reasons given for disapproval.
District 30 would go from four to zero polling locations with this proposal.
“This doesn’t make much sense to me,” said Representative Mike Nathe. “We have a growing community and we’re looking to limit the number of polling places out there for people. I’m adamantly against this. It would not serve our constituents well at all in District 30 in south Bismarck.”
“Imagine the line to get into the event center to vote. I think we will lose voters,” said Representative Diane Larson. “They will become so disgusted with how difficult we’re making it for them that they just won’t even try, and I don’t think that’s what we want for our citizens.”
District 47 Representative George Keiser said he feels it’s important to continue utilizing schools for polling sites.
“We are the elected leaders of our community and we have an opportunity here to demonstrate to children what the election process is about, and one of the ways to do that is hold an election in the schools,” he said.
“We’re living in a changing world,” said Glatt. “Kids don’t care how they cast their ballot, just that they get to do it.”
Increasing election costs and the need to update polling equipment were additional reasons for the proposed reduction in polling sites.
No action was taken and further discussions will take place.