Mayor Gets Judges But Not Polling Place

January 30, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A proposed resolution to change city election laws is either half-full or half-empty, depending on whom you ask.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown thinks it doesn't go far enough, while City Council members think it's a good start.

For more than two months, the mayor has been asking the City Council for authority to add election judges and a second polling location in preparation for what he predicts will be a surge in voter turnout during the election in May.

But the council had passed on the proposed charter amendment, and one member -- William F. Haifley -- accused Brown of wanting a new polling place that is more convenient forthe mayor's supporters.

That stalemate budged Monday night, if only a little.

The council introduced a resolution that would empower the mayor to appoint more election judges, but stops short of granting him authority to establish a second polling location in the city.

Though compromise is the engine of democratic government, the mayor said he felt less than satisfied that the council chose to entertain the revised measure.

"Although I should be grateful . . . I have the feeling that if God himself came down and asked you to introduce the Ten Commandments you would introduce no more than five," the mayor told the council, paraphrasing a statement he heard from a lawmaker during a recent U.S. Senate debate.

New election laws have streamlined the registration process -- voters who register for county elections now automatically are signed up to vote in city races -- and the mayor said he expects a greater turnout for the May 13 election.

In the last city election in 1989, about 35 percent -- or 472 -- of the city's 1,339 registered voters cast ballots at Westminster's sole polling location, the volunteer fire company's hall on Main Street.

With the new "universal" registration laws, the county election board estimates that some 4,500 voters would be registered by May. If35 percent of that group were to turn out this spring, the mayor said it would create a mess at the fire hall.

"It's strictly a matter of convenience," the mayor said Monday.

The council agrees that turnout likely will be larger this year. But members aren't convincedthat it will be big enough to cause problems at the fire hall and stated that doubling to six the number of election judges on hand should be sufficient to accommodate any marked increase in voters.

"(Extra judges) certainly should take care of any additional voters that might come out to vote," Haifley said yesterday. "We can plan for future elections based on the turnout for this year."

At the last council meeting, Haifley called the mayor's proposal a "thinly disguisedpolitical gerrymandering maneuver." He said the mayor simply wanted to set up a polling place west of Route 31, where he said the base ofBrown's support exists.

The mayor has denied that charge and challenged the council -- particularly Haifley -- to explain further how his proposal could be viewed as a political ploy.

The council remained silent.

"I don't believe in beating a dead horse," Haifley said yesterday. "He presented nothing new, so why respond to it?"

Also on Monday, the council delayed action on a recommendation to lift the moratorium on issuing sewer hookup permits for residential developments. The council said more information was needed and will take upthe matter at its Feb. 11 meeting.

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