OTTAWA — Petitions with over 250 signatures from Blanchard and Sugar Creek townships were presented to Putnam County Board of Elections members Tuesday showing opposition to closing and reducing the number of voting locations in the county.
Vaughnsville resident Joan Collar presented the petition signed by Sugar Creek Township residents with 167 signatures and Dick McCullough presented a petition on behalf of Blanchard Township residents that had approximately 100 signatures. There were six other residents from the townships who showed up to share their concern with closing polling stations in their communities.
In May, The Lima News reported the board reduced the number of polling locations from 18 to 12 to make voting quicker and efficient and help with handicap accessibility.
“The county received new voting equipment so the board decided to combine polling locations to save the county money,” said Karen Lammers, Putnam County Board of Elections director.
The voting site location changes that were approved in May by the board involved movement from smaller locations to larger locations. Sugar Creek Township closed and went to Columbus Grove Legion, Blanchard Township closed and went to the Fogle Center in Leipsic, Jackson Township closed and went to St. Barbara Parish Hall and Liberty Township closed and went to St. Nicholas Parish Hall.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Collar read a statement that summarized her concerns with the board closing the Vaughnsville Community Center polling location.
“Taking the polling location from the Vaughnsville Community Center is detrimental to our community. The Community Center is in the heart of our community. It’s a place that is used frequently for a variety of events, and taking the polling site away also takes some of our identity,” Collar said.
She said Sugar Creek Township has the largest population of people 70 years old or older at 11.7 percent. She added that for some residents the polling location move to the American Legion in Columbus Grove goes from 6 miles to 10.5 miles and adds 10 minutes each way.
“Many folks I have spoken with are clear that if they cannot vote in Vaughnsville, they likely will not vote,” Collar said.
Kurt Sahloff, BOE chair, said the board in May made a unanimous decision to close the polling locations along with the consent of the election director and deputy director.
“In rough terms closing locations, you are looking at about a $10,000 in savings for each polling location because of the cost of the new equipment as well as long-term costs on maintenance fees for the equipment,” Sahloff said.
Tony Schroeder, board member and Putnam County Republican party chair, thanked the residents for voicing their concerns.
“One of the biggest determinants in my decisions related to this is the rapidly increasing percentage of early voting,” Schroeder said. In 2016, there were about a third of votes in the county that were cast before Election Day.
Michael Lammers, Putnam County commissioner, attended the meeting and suggested the BOE could consider phasing in polling location closures over two to three years instead of all at once.
“I know you are trying to save the tax payers money and this is a well thought out plan, but I think for too many folks it was a sudden occurrence because they were caught off guard,” Lammers said.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.