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County debates merging voter offices

– The Allen County commissioners heard both sides Wednesday when revisiting a plan to merge voter registration and the election board.

A fairly new state law allows county officials to place the duties and responsibilities of the voter registration office under the jurisdiction of the clerk of courts.

The Allen County Election Board performs administrative functions of the election process, while the Board of Voter Registration is responsible for processing new registrations, maintaining the voter database, corresponding with new voters, assigning voters to precincts and preparing statistical reports.

None of the Indiana counties now operating under the merged structure is as large as Allen County.

Marion County, which has the closest comparable size to Allen, still has a separate voter registration office, Allen County Democratic Chairman John Court said.

Court told Commissioner Nelson Peters that he and Republican Chairman Steve Shine agree on little, but they both agreed the offices should remain as is. Shine was not present at the meeting.

In August 2011, the election board could not reach a required unanimous vote for its office to assume the duties of voter registration, so the issue reverted back to the commissioners, who decided to wait until after the presidential election before revisiting the topic.

Currently both voter registration and the election board operate separately but under the same roof at 1 W. Superior St.

Voter registration is managed by the two-member board of Republican Barry Schust and Democrat Maye Johnson. It has six full-time employees of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

The three members who make up the election board are Republican County Clerk Lisbeth Borgmann, Republican representative Zachary Klutz and Democratic member Andrew Boxberger.

If approved, the duties and staffing of voter registration would fall under Borgmann’s jurisdiction.

Borgmann said changes need to be made.

“The doors of voter registration were closed to voters one day a week,” Borgmann said. “We are here to serve the public. I would have sent other staff there to keep the office open.”

Schust said their staff had been cut from eight to six and the magnitude of the online and phone work that needed to be done necessitated the closing.

“The majority of registrations we get are not walk-ins but from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and other sources,” Schust said.

Klutz said he remained of the same opinion as last year when he voted in favor of the merger.

The discussion was needed to decide one way or another, Peters said.

The county hired an architectural firm last year to determine the space inefficiencies and needs in county buildings. Based on that report, a possible floor plan was revealed should the two boards merge.

Boxberger said early in the meeting that no amount of discussion was going to change his mind.

“I am in favor of the system remaining as it is,” Boxberger said. “The (consolidation) would be a mistake,” he said.

Johnson agreed, saying she had been on the voter registration board only 15 months, but she had enough experience to know she was against the merger.

Local radio personality Ron Gregory, who worked part time in voter registration, said he had no political affiliation to speak of but had been impressed by the operation and the teamwork of the staff.

“To use an old axiom, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Gregory said.

The commissioners will take the matter under advisement, Peters said. Because there are no elections next year and state law prohibits any changes less than 60 days before an election, they have some time, Peters said.

vsade@jg.net

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