Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely council pushing polling place change

Keith Vandervort
Posted 3/16/16

ELY –Despite pushback from some voters, Ely officials are still considering moving the city’s lone polling place, starting this fall, from the Senior Center to City Hall.

Clerk-Treasurer …

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Ely council pushing polling place change

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ELY –Despite pushback from some voters, Ely officials are still considering moving the city’s lone polling place, starting this fall, from the Senior Center to City Hall.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski last week reminded City Council members, and the city’s 2,400 registered voters that the State of Minnesota implemented “no-excuse” absentee voting several years ago.

Contrary to published reports that indicated the voting option is new and just made available to voters in Ely, “the entire state went to no excuse absentee voting a while ago,” Langowski said this week.

In fact, state legislators overwhelmingly approved the new law in 2013 that allows voters to request absentee ballots regardless of whether or not they can get to their polling places on Election Day. Before the change, Minnesotans voting absentee had to attest that they would be physically unable to get to their polling places because of travel, illness or several other specific reasons.

“You no longer need an excuse to request an absentee ballot,” he said. “This is meant for those people who would rather vote early and not have to come out on a busy primary or general election voting day.”

Langowski said a city primary, if needed, will be held Tuesday, Aug. 9, with the general election set for Nov. 8.

In January, city staff floated the idea of holding future elections in the newly renovated City Hall. Prior to having elections at the Senior Center, elections in Ely were also held at the former JFK school building and at least four other polling places around the city.

“The Senior Center has worked out quite well,” Langowski said in January. “We do put the Senior Center out a bit when we do have elections there and they have to alter what they do on those days. It is their building. They have been very gracious to us.”

Renovations at City Hall included adding an elevator and other improvements to make the building fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“From a staffing standpoint, it would be great to have elections in the Council Chambers,” he said. “The polling place relocation would save staff time in transferring equipment back and forth. We could configure the Council Chambers much like we configure the Senor Center.”

The City Council will need to pass a resolution moving the city’s polling place. Post cards will also need to be sent to all eligible voters in the city to notify them of the polling place change.

One Ely citizen, Patricia Koski, who said she represented a large number of Ely citizens “and probably 100 percent of election workers,” spoke against the proposal last month.

Koski has worked as an Ely election judge for many years. She said she received many comments from citizens and fellow poll workers about the proposal.

Koski listed many detriments to such a move. “Chapman Street is a busy street, and part of our concern is parking and crossing the street (in the library parking lot) if this room was used as a voting place,” she said. “People cannot be dropped off at the door here as they have been at the Senior Center. They can get dropped off at the curb, but then they must walk down a slanted walk to the entrance. Remember, this would be November and we could have snow then, and there is no handrail.”

She noted this year is a presidential vote and more voters are expected. “People are concerned that there will be a lot of waiting. The logistics of the whole thing bother me just a little bit,” she said.

Most City Council members praised a change of venue for election day activities.

“I support any reason to get people in the building, and to get them more comfortable with the building,” Kara Polyner said.

Heidi Omerza cited one of the reasons for renovating City Hall was to bring the elections to the city building. “And this is a gorgeous building and this is a gorgeous room and it would be nice to show it off,” she said.

Council member Paul Kess said he had mixed feelings about moving the polling place. “Having a reason to show off the building is not a reason to make the move,” he said.

Last week, Langowski noted that absente ballots can be obtained several ways. “You can come to City Hall, you can call City Hall to request an absentee ballot application, or you can go to the website, www.minnvotes.sos.state.mn,” he said.

Mayor Chuck Novak, speaking at the Community Economic Joint Powers Board last Thursday, stressed the city’s intent to move the polling place to city hall. “With that no-excuse, absentee-voting (law) you can vote early, not often, but early,” Novak said. “All you have to do is come to City Hall and request the ballot, fill it out right there, put it in the envelope and get it witnessed. There’s no reason why anybody has to go to a polling place anymore.”

He described the task of city staff to move the voting equipment to the senior center and back. “We have the elevator there for a reason and (voting) will run a lot smoother at City Hall,” he said.

Novak admitted, “In all likelihood, this is going to happen. We did get some pushback and some letters to the editor. Change is difficult.”

He did not see any election day parking issues around City Hall. “We have the library parking lot across the street,” he said. “We can have temporary parking signs across the street and only handicapped parking in front of City Hall.”

“We’re not done with this,” Novak added. “We’re still talking about it. We want to keep the debate going and hear from everybody.”

More on gypsy moths

Another public information meeting with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is scheduled for Monday, April 11 from 5:30-6:30 in the Council Chambers in City Hall.

“There were a lot of people in chambers last week, mostly opposed (to the proposed aerial spraying project this summer), although many who were not opposed were also in chambers,” Novak said. “I think it is important to clarify the information and dis-information that is out there.”

He added that the gypsy moth is one of several invasive species, and like the spiny water flea in Burntside Lake, efforts are being made to eradicate the pest. “It is a mandate from the federal government that the Department of Agriculture is executing,” he said.

“If we did not try to slow the advance of the gypsy moth and it got into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, there would be a lot of spraying going on up here and we would have no say in that.”

Other business

In other business, the City Council took the following action this week:

• Rescheduled the Telecommunications Advisory Board meeting to Thursday, April 21 at 4 p.m. for a meeting with Lake Connections to discuss the high-speed internet project.

• Approved two Commercial Renovation Loan applications for John Ott’s Chapman Street Properties, LLC for $17,500 each for projects at 103 E. Chapman St. and 2 W. Sheridan St.

• OK’d another Commercial Renovation Loan application for $17,000 for 2 Gringos Grill Inc., 32 E. Sheridan St., for flooring, signage, painting and equipment, in anticipation of opening on May 5.

• Approved the appointment of former mayor Ross Peterson to the city Projects Committee.

• Went into closed session to discuss litigation in the public health hazard case involving Luthera Smith, and to discuss the criminal trial scheduled for mid-May.

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