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Stevens County Times Editorial: Election poll site selection process flawed

The right to vote in a free election should be one of the most cherished rights we have American citizens.

So when the city of Morris reduces the number of polling sites from six to three, it's a big deal.

The three sites are: The Morris National Guard Armory, Federated Church and Evangelical Free Church.

After the city council agreed by consensus in November to reduce the number of election voting sites from six to three, the public should have had a chance to weigh in or at least hear about those proposed voting sites before a council decision on March 27.

But, what happened instead was city manager Blaine Hill and Stevens County auditor/treasurer Amanda Barsness reviewed possible sites and Hill recommended three sites to the Morris CIty Council. A good system with one flaw. While the two public officials occasionally noted to the Morris City Council and Stevens County Commissioners that their conversations were ongoing, A conversation with this large of implication should have included plan for public discussion. The council should have had a portion of at least one council meeting to inform the public and receive public feedback before it made a final vote on March 27.

The city must meet various requirements to inform the affected property owners who pay for some of the costs to build streets and upgrade utilities. Certainly a similar standard could be self-imposed by a city which is affecting where 3,000 voters cast their ballots on election day.

But this newspaper is going to share some of this responsibility as well. Although we informed the public on the potential change from six to three, we didn't do a good job with follow-up to check with Hill and Barsness on the process. We could have better informed the public before the March 27 vote. At the same time, we believe that public officials who are engaged making changes to an entirely public event have some responsibility to ask for public comments on the proposed changes.

Several University of Minnesota Morris students and staff did attend the March 27 council meeting to share concerns about the loss of a voting site on the UMM campus. While the response may have been organized only days after UMM students learned of the potential loss of a campus voting site, the students and concerned staff had some time to respond.

The general public did not have a similar chance to respond.

Although the council provided time for UMM students and staff to comment on election voting sites on March 27, it's not the best structure because the council must digest that information and Hill's recommendation at the same meeting. That doesn't offer much time to consider the pros and cons. Furthermore, this perpetuates the notion that the vote was a foregone conclusion and that city officials have little regard for public input into the process.

Hill and the council chose what appear to be good sites for citizens to cast their votes. But, there should have been a way to better inform the public before a vote to determine those sites was placed on the council agenda for March 27.

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