Rural polling places

Apr 22, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

They are a good part of democracy, but they also need tender, loving care

Every couple of years the Fremont County Clerk's office buys a newspaper advertisement with the lead line that reads "Election Judges Needed."

If more people responded to that ad, then the 8 Mile voting precinct might have survived the administrative knife.

This week, County Clerk Julie Freese told the Fremont County Commission that it was time to do away with 8 Mile as its own voting precinct. It had been in existence for many decades in the rural farm country west of Riverton and east of Pavillion.

In making her recommendation, the clerk noted that finding competent election judges to man the polling place at the Midvale Fire Hall had become next to impossible. Most recently, election judges from Dubois had to make the 150-mile round trip so that voters in 8 Mile could participate in the election.

A short supply of election judges -- who are paid for their work, by the way -- isn't the only reason the precinct is on the chopping block. There are now so many different voting precincts, school districts, Wyoming House District, Wyoming Senate districts, community college districts and, now, county commission districts, that an election ballot one person gets in rural Fremont County can look quite different from that of a neighbor just across the road.

That's a good way to confuse voters, and voter confusion is never a good thing (just ask Al Gore in 2000).

If it can be lessened, then it ought to be.

Chances are, however, that if there had been a reliable group of election judges to greet voters, verify registration, pass out ballots, and do the other duties of a polling place, the eyes of the consolidators might not have focused so sharply on 8 Mile. Let this development be a lesson to other voters: If you want your polling place to survive, then take good care of it.

If the merger of Pavillion and 8 Mile goes forward as expected, Fremont County still will be left with about 30 voting precincts. That's a good number for a county of 40,000, but once upon a time there were far more than that. The list of precincts that have come and gone is an interesting part of any Fremont County election history lesson (remember Duncan, Gas Hills and Tipperary?).

Gradually, inevitably, there has been consolidation as populations have shifted and as the inefficiency of operating a full-fledged polling place for what might have been only a half-dozen voters began to take its toll at the budgeting time. Today there are a few bigger, centralized polling places that handle many precincts at once. The Lander Community Center and the Fremont County Fairgrounds in Riverton are the two prime examples.

But there still are lots of small, more-rural places where our citizens come to vote which perpetuate the notion that gathering at a local spot near your home, such as the Midvale Fire Hall. We rate that as one of the good things about Fremont County.

The loss of 8 Mile certainly doesn't eliminate that model. It's not as if the larger Pavillion precinct is going to be confused with an urban voting center. Old school voting, with all its benefits and charm, isn't going anywhere.

Just in case, though, the next time you see that "Election Judges Needed" advertisement, consider answering it. Democracy needs you.

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