BLOOMINGTON — Three Normal polling places could be eliminated in favor of a single new space starting next year.
Voters who use Normal Community West High School, Parkside Junior High School and the Orlando Avenue police substation will instead use Heartland Community College's Astroth Community Education Center under a plan from the McLean County clerk's office, which runs elections in the town.
McLean County Unit 5, which runs the school buildings, requested they no longer be polling places due to safety concerns, said County Clerk Kathy Michael, and the substation has become too cramped for the number of local voters.
The County Board's finance committee approved the plan Wednesday, moving it to the full board for approval Aug. 15 — but by only a 3-2 margin.
Chuck Erickson, David Selzer and Jim Soeldner voted in favor of the change. Catherine Metsker and Laurie Wollrab voted against it.
Scott Murphy and Erik Rankin also sit on the committee but did not attend Wednesday's meeting.
Metsker said she's concerned about voters finding the Astroth Center on the Raab Road campus and prefers the Illinois State University Alumni Building on Main Street just south of Orlando. Wollrab questioned how easily residents near the substation will be able to get to Heartland and suggested more voters use the county nursing home, already a polling place.
"Right now people can just go down the street from where they live and vote," said Wollrab. She suggested Connect Transit doesn't run between the area and Heartland, though the yellow route does.
Selzer said moving the polling places to Heartland would benefit residents of Northmeadow Village, a mobile home park just east of the college, who currently need to get to Normal West to vote. Connect Transit does not run to Normal West, which is on Parkside Road.
"Every area, every person, every house, when we move (polling places), there's going to be a further distance for some and less for others," said Michael. "This is our recommendation."
Selzer said he's more concerned by the idea that the county shouldn't use schools as polling places. No other school in McLean County is a polling place.
"We the people rarely ask to use the schools we pay for," Selzer said.
Michael said the county doesn't have to comply.
"The schools are not insisting on this. They're asking as a favor," she said. "The schools are concerned because they're closed securely all year round except Election Day."
Michael added there's some urgency to approve changes because her office is preparing to send new voter registration cards in advance of the March election. That will let the county warn every voter affected well ahead of time.
The change should be cost-neutral, Michael said. The county could save money by employing fewer election judges and paying less rent for polling places, which is assessed per location.