Hobart hoping to have suitable polling place for 2020 elections
By Kevin Boneske
HOBART – The options aren’t looking good for having a single polling place in the village to accommodate an anticipated large voter turnout for some elections in 2020.
The Hobart village board discussed the issue at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 5.
With a record turnout reported for the November 2018 gubernatorial election, the village experienced Election Day congestion at its only polling location, St. Joseph’s Church, and since then has been looking for a solution to avoid the problem next year.
Village Administrator Aaron Kramer said one place being looked at as a secondary polling location is the Brown County Golf Course, which would have plenty of parking.
Kramer said another polling location change would mark the third time it’s happened in Hobart since he has been the village administrator.
“At some point, you’re just going have voters saying, ‘Stop jerking me around. How many places do I have to go? I went here, you were there two years ago. I went here, you were here last year. And now you’re here? I’m not going to vote,’” he said. “We want to encourage people to vote. We don’t want to make it harder for them to vote.”
To handle next year’s polling, Clerk-Treasurer Mary Smith said the village has authorized the purchase of Badger Books.
Those have electronic poll book software and are primarily used to check in voters, process absentee ballots and register voters on Election Day, while maintaining the voter number and count independent of poll worker input.
“We have not yet gotten them to see how those are going to be working and reducing the time for all the book flipping,” Smith said.
Deputy Clerk-Treasurer Erica Berger said the village expects Badger Books “will speed things up significantly and also allow a significantly larger amount of people into the building, because there are no lines based on alphabet.”
“It’s no longer based on alphabet, because we don’t have paper books,” Berger said. “You just walk in and get in line, and fill through the lines evenly, and just take the next person.”
Berger said the Badger Book system will make it possible to have six lines of voters inside the building, rather than three or four lines based on alphabet.
If a second polling location would be used in the village, Berger said it would require additional equipment and more poll workers.
To start the 2020 election cycle, Smith suggested the village “give what we have a chance to see what works.”
Kramer said he anticipates a higher than normal turnout for the April election with a presidential primary.
“We invested a good chunk of change into those Badger Books, and we really need to test out the car,” he said.
At the same time, Kramer said the village is “doing exploratory research on other options” should the current polling site not work out for next year.
“There is no low-hanging fruit on this problem,” Kramer said. “If there’s a simple solution, we would have found it.”
Though a new polling setup could reduce the congestion inside St. Joseph’s Church, board members discussed what could be done about limited parking outside the building.
“We can’t increase the parking,” Smith said. “What we have done is encourage absentee ballots. We’ve seen an increase of those over the last two years, and I expect a large increase (for 2020).”
Board President Rich Heidel asked whether a traffic pattern could be configured around St. Joseph’s Church on Election Day.
“Last year we didn’t have any (traffic pattern),” Heidel said. “People were coming and going, as well as people parked on the shoulders. It was just a cluster.”
Berger suggested having Director of Public Works Jerry Lancelle and Police Chief Randy Bani put together a traffic flow plan around St. Joseph’s Church for Election Day.
Though the village wouldn’t have control over a county highway near the church, Lancelle said signs indicating entry only and exit only could be put in place for the parking area.
Absent the possibility of having overflow parking off the site, Heidel said “there is no one place in the village that is big enough to accommodate every vehicle that we’d anticipate in one spot for voting.”
For next spring, Heidel said the village will continue to have its only polling place at St. Joseph’s Church while using the Badger Books to see what the effect will be on alleviating congestion on Election Day.
To make a polling place change, Kramer said the village would have to pass a resolution with enough prior notice as required by state law.
Wis. Stat. 5.25 requires all polling locations to be determined at least 30 days prior to an election, so a decision on moving a polling location would have to be made far enough in advance of an election to meet that standard and address any accessibility-related concerns.