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Letter: Cutting polling places is wrong

On Oct. 3, the Willmar City Council decided to make it more difficult for many of Willmar's citizens to vote in all future elections, and no one seemed to care. The council, without holding public hearings or otherwise seeking citizen opinion, voted to cut the number of polling places in Willmar from 12 to four. Most will no longer be able to vote at their neighborhood polling places.

In Ward 1, on Willmar's north side, Ridgewater College and Lakeview Apartments (the "highrise") will no longer be polling places. Those living in the Ridgewater and Lakeview neighborhoods will need to travel to the Senior Citizens Center to vote in all future elections, including presidential elections.

In Ward 2, those who now vote at St. Mary's, Vinje or Christian Reformed churches will be required to vote at the Evangelical Free Church.

For many, the changes will cause only the additional inconvenience of traveling a greater distance to vote and facing a larger crowd at the polls. However, for the disabled, for the old and frail, for new potential (young) voters, and for the poor, these changes will create new and difficult obstacles to voting. These are the very groups who tend to vote in lower numbers. If we believe in democracy, these are the people that we should be helping, not hindering, to vote.

Ironically, the council explains that reducing the number of polling places is the result of the federal Help America Vote Act. The council's proposed changes will not help Willmar to vote but will burden the fundamental right to vote and will deter some from voting.

There is no cost to the city to acquire, program, and initially maintain the equipment required by the federal legislation. Surprisingly, the council did not ask what other comparable cities are doing in response to the federal act. I have spoken with the city clerks in Marshall, Worthington, St. Cloud, New Ulm and Mankato. None of those cities plan to reduce the number of voting places. If you care, let the City Council know.

John Burns