The placement of a polling site means a heck of a lot. If you put it too far from where people live, some people can't make it there, or they simply won't vote. That's why the Mayor's Office's decision this week to combine five polling sites in the heavily Democratic Butler-Tarkington area into one polling site at Hinkle Fieldhouse was so surprising.
The announcement from the Mayor's Office polling sites was met with strong resistance from the Marion County Democratic Party. The party released the following statement on Tuesday:
Yesterday, the Mayor of Indianapolis unilaterally decided to relocate the polling places of 10,439 registered voters in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. The move, clearly designed to disenfranchise thousands of African-American voters came just one day after the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in an unfortunate twist of fate, four of the twelve precincts relocated previously voted at the Martin Luther King Multi-Service Center.
Marion County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Treacy minced no words: "Let's call this what it is, a blatantly racist attempt to disenfranchise thousands of African-Americans. In 2010, with an African-American President, the day after the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, I would hope that the Mayor of Indianapolis would be above racially motivated political decisions, but it appears Mayor Ballard is not."
The twelve precincts that were relocated from five sites throughout the neighborhood to Hinkle Fieldhouse will have over 10,000 registered voters voting in once place. It was not immediately clear what the logistics for handling a crowd such as that seen in the 2008 general election would be. Hinkle Fieldhouse is over four blocks from the nearest bus line and has had parking problems in the past with only one precinct voting there.
"I've been in politics for a long time, and I keep hoping that this kind of racially motivated political tactic will be excised from the business," Treacy said. "The tragedy is that in all these years of politics, including in the racially divisive 1960s, I've seen few maneuvers so bald-faced, so transparent and so obvious."
Because the list of polling places was certified to the Marion County Election Board yesterday, Treacy admitted there was little he could do, but expressed dismay about the process used, citing the fact that Marion County Democratic Party staff reached out to representatives of Mayor Ballard, who gave no indication that such a move was coming. The relocation of polling places came less than a week after the Mayor's party chairman moved to block the overwhelming popular satellite voting sites.
"Nationally, the Republican Party has become the party of 'no,' but here in Indianapolis, the Mayor has led his party to become the party of 'No, I'm not going to let you vote,'" Treacy said.
As the release alluded to, with this decision coming on the heels of the GOP's blocking of the highly-popular satellite voting centers for the May Primary plus the Republican Party's continuing fight to defend the Voter ID bill, I think it was appropriate for Treacy and the MCDP to provide some pressure on the Mayor's Office with a strongly-worded news release that clearly got the Mayor's attention.
By yesterday, the plan to move the polling sites had been scrapped with Mayor Ballard's people calling the shift of the site a mistake. Those voters that would have felt the effects of this will still vote at the five neighborhood sites instead of at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Indy Star columnist Matt Tully strongly disagreed with Treacy's tactics calling them "mean-spirited" and "dangerous."
Listen, Ed Treacy will never be confused with a warm and fuzzy stuffed animal. If you go into battle, you want him on your side. Was the rhetoric over the top? Maybe a little, but this is serious business: it's the right to vote. Is there any real evidence that the Mayor's Office specifically targeted these precincts for voter turnout or racial reasons? Not really, but there isn't any evidence to the contrary either. There was no outright and strong denial to the charge from the lips of Mayor Ballard.
It seems to me that all Treacy did was point out the obvious. Republicans don't want everyone to vote. It's that simple. By actions, they, many times, try to add conditions or complications which deter people from being a part of the process. From the perplexing refusal to allow the satellite centers after two successful elections with them to the continuing defense of one of the country's most restrictive voter ID bills, the Republicans are the ones making it harder for you to vote...especially if you're minority or poor.So, let's excuse Chairman Treacy if he's a little sensitive to the issue.
While the Mayor's Office should get credit for reversing the decision, Chairman Treacy's strong words should also be acknowledged for shining a bright light onto something that just didn't look that great and just did not need to happen.