Local party leaders will use 2017 to build strength for 2018 elections

Herald-Times: Monroe County political party leaders won’t be taking the year off, despite there being no elections in 2017.

Monroe County political party leaders won’t be taking the year off, despite there being no elections in 2017.

Democratic Party Chairman Mark Fraley said his organization will focus on strengthening the Democratic Party throughout central and southern Indiana in 2017 in preparation for future elections. Monroe County is uniquely suited to take the lead on that role, he noted.

“Being in a Democratic stronghold in a Republican-controlled state, we are in a unique position to articulate the successes of Democrats in elected office while pushing back against the exclusionary agenda of the state and national GOP,” Fraley said.

Democrats swept the local races in Monroe County, but results at the state and national level were disappointing, Fraley said, as the GOP swept the up-ballot races.

Fraley said every year the organization reviews its strategic plan, seeks input and makes adjustments in preparation for new and unexpected challenges the party may face in the future. Among the party’s priorities moving forward are building an issue portfolio, enhancing the party’s communication infrastructure and doing greater outreach in and outside of the county.

Fraley said the party has already received a number of inquiries from people wanting to get involved.

County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis said outreach also will be a big part of his organization’s plans in 2017. He said he would like to see party members get more involved in the community at a grassroots level through volunteering, stressing that Republicans must be more visible in the community, outside of taking part in parades during election years.

“2017, in a nutshell, will be used to set us up for victory in 2018,” Ellis said.

The next election year at the local level will feature a number of county positions, including the county council district representatives, a county commissioner seat, sheriff, clerk and a few circuit court judge seats. Of those positions, the Republicans only have one incumbent, council member Marty Hawk.

Ellis said 2017 will be a year of reflection on strategies that worked for the party as it looks to rebuild itself within Monroe County, noting he does not have specifics at this time.

But as the Republican representative on the Monroe County Election Board, Ellis said there are some issues he would like to address in 2017 to ensure people can exercise their right to vote.

One of those priorities has to do with the Union Street Center polling location on the Indiana University campus with regard to handicap accessibility during elections. In what he described as an ongoing issue, Ellis said that during the 2016 election, accessibility for people with disabilities became difficult because of nearby construction. An entrance to accommodate them was added to correct the problem. But Ellis said that entrance was blocked when he went to the polling station.

“Not sure who dropped the ball, but the ball was dropped,” Ellis said. He added this is not the first time he has had issues with this polling location, which typically caters to IU students, and he plans to share those grievances this year.

Another priority for him this year is analyzing how work on Interstate 69 will affect precincts. While the election board’s current plan is to retain the current system of using precincts, Ellis said he is open to the discussion of switching to vote centers. But he said it would take a very persuasive argument to make the change. He said instead of switching to vote centers, he thinks more resources should be put into early voting, noting that it accounted for the majority of the county’s votes in the 2016 election. The county broke early voting records in the fall election, with 52 percent of those who voted opting to cast ballots early before Election Day.

Carolyn VandeWiele, the Democratic representative on the election board, said she expects the board to tackle a number of issues in 2017. She said one issue that could affect the election board’s decisions is whether the county’s voting machine vendor, Hart InterCivic, can make its machines compliant with Indiana Election Division requirements. According to a resolution from the Indiana Election Division, Hart InterCivic’s voting machines did not function properly when it came to automatic tabulation of straight-party-ticket votes, and as a result, some ballots had to be manually counted.

While the state authority found that the machines did not meet state compliance, it still allowed the county to continue using the voting machines for the fall election because it would have had adverse effects on the county to decertify machines so close to an election. But VandeWiele said the vendor has until March to make changes to bring the system into compliance, adding the company has assured her it can be done.