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Polling sites consolidated

New London has consolidated its polling sites so that voting will take place at the band room at the Washington Center, the Municipal Center and the American Legion Hall. John Faucher Photo

New London OKs central counting site

By Bert Lehman

New London residents who voted at Trinity for elections will now be voting at the Washington Center in the band room.

The New London Common Council voted to consolidate it polling sites for elections when it met May 21.

The consolidation was approved by a 7-1 vote, with Ald. Tim Roberts voting no. Ald. Mike Barrington and Council President John Hass were absent from the meeting.

Prior to the council’s vote, there were five polling sites at four different addresses. Two were at the east end of of the Washington Center in separate rooms. With the consolidation there will be three physical addresses. Polling sites will be Municipal Center, American Legion Hall and Washington Center, according to Ald. John Faucher.

The council also approved, by an 8-0 vote, creating a central count area for absentee ballots at the New London Municipal Building. This means absentee ballots won’t be counted at individual polling sites, as they have been in the past. Absentee ballots will still be processed open to the public.

The consolidation of polling sites, and the creation of a central count area for absentee ballots, will start with the election in August, since the council waived the rule requiring two readings for an ordinance change.

Finance and Personnel

At the May 8 New London Finance and Personnel Committee meeting, the polling site consolidation and creation of central count plan was explained in detail by New London City Clerk Nicole Ryerson.

She said she has been looking for ways to make elections held in the city of New London more efficient. She said the city has been able to add to its pool of poll workers, as well as develop a schedule where poll workers work half-days.

Consolidating polling sites was another idea Ryerson had to make elections more efficient.

Ryerson said the city of New Lonon has five polling sites, which she said is “quite a bit” for a municipality of 7,200 people.

“It takes a lot of time for us to set up those polling places,” she said.

She added, “Generally, I just feel better about election security, having fewer places, for a preference for city-owned properties and maintained properties, and less disruption to the senior center and their meal site, and things like that,” Ryerson said.

The proposal called for the city to change the voting location from Trinity to the Washington Center band room, along with moving the existing Washington Center poliing sites from the senior room and activity room to the band room.

Another efficiency idea Ryerson presented was creating a central count area. Under this scenario, instead of processing absentee ballots at each polling location, absentee ballots would be taken to central count to allow for the counting of absentee ballots in the conference room at New London City Hall.

Ryerson said Grand Chute has been using a central count area for around 10 years, and Greenville just recently adopted a central count area.

“They said it’s a game-changer, the central count,” Ryerson said. “They said it’s way efficient. They would hate to do it any other way.”

The only downsides to the consolidation of polling places, Ryerson said, is people are resistant to change and people want to be able to vote in their neighborhood.

“From our standpoint, it’s not that big of a city, and geographically, it’s pretty close to Trinity. Maybe it’s a few blocks from Trinity to Washington Center.”

Committee member Robert Besaw asked if the change would make it more difficult for residents to vote, thus decreasing the number of residents who vote.

Ryerson said she didn’t think it would reduce the number of voters.

Members of the committee also expressed concerns about the number of parking spaces available.

“That was probably the part of it that I liked the least about it, was the parking,” Ryerson said. “But I still think there is enough parking. Especially since they (voters) will be able to get in and get out quicker.”

Council discussion

During the council discussion on the changes, Roberts said the presidential election in the fall will be a big election, and four years ago there was “some controversy” for the presidential election.

“I just feel by putting the absentee ballots in one spot, it just adds to those conspiracy theories,” Roberts said. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

He added that he worked on the 2020 election and there were no problems counting the absentee ballots the same day.
“I’m just concerned for how it looks,” Roberts said.

Roberts also expressed concern about the reduced number of parking spots that would be available if the polling places were consolidated. He said he is afraid voters will arrive at the polling place, and there won’t be any parking spots available, and they will go home without voting.

“I’m just saying these are some concerns that I think some of the public is going to ask,” Roberts said.
Ryerson told the council that the cities of Clintonville and Waupaca have comparable voting, they vote in one spot for those two municipalities,” Ryerson said.

She added that the city of Clintonville has comparable parking.

“There are already examples in the county of people making it work with comparable parking situations,” Ryerson said.

Besaw asked if the election in August would be used to prepare for this change for November’s election.

Ryerson said if approved, the condensed polling sites would be used in the August election.

“That was kind of the impetus of wanting one reading (of the ordinance change) because they have to program the voting machines and things like that,” Ryerson said.

She added that the Wisconsin Election Commission recommended that the condensed polling sites be used for the first time for the August election.

The change has the support of the Outagamie County clerk and Waupaca County clerk, she added.

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