ST. JOSEPH COUNTY -- It's been an icon on South Bend's west side for 60 years. This morning, St. Joseph County's Election Board decided in a 2 to 1 vote along party lines the West Side Democratic Club will still be a polling place during next month's election. But the board told club president Tim Hudak he must paint over murals of President Obama on the outside of the building and make the building's wheelchair ramp handicap accessible in two days.
The county's Republican Party made allegations a few weeks ago about possible electioneering and voter fraud happening there during election. The election board had a special public hearing this morning to talk about those concerns and get feedback from people who work, vote and live there to get to the bottom of it.
Republican Party Chair Deb Fleming was the only person to speak out against continuing to allow the club to be a polling place. Here are three of the concerns she addressed today:
- First, Fleming says having the name Democratic on the sign out front is enough to intimate Republican and independent voters who go there.
- Second, there are at least two murals of President Obama painted on the side of the building. But state law says no campaign signs, pamphlets or any type of material promoting one party over the other can be within 50 feet of the entrance to a polling place.
- Finally, she showed the board pictures of the ramp into the building, and raised some concern about whether it meets handicap accessible laws.
In the end, Republican Election Board member Murray Winn was the only one to vote against keeping the club as a polling place, claiming having the name Democratic in it simply isn't fair.
“I'm still concerned about the name,” said Fleming. “I'm wondering if they can put a sheet over the name so people can come in and just know that it's a polling location and not a Democratic club.”
“You're insulting peoples’ intelligence that they're intimidated by the word ‘Democrat,’ said Democratic Club President Tim Hudak. “I don't believe people are afraid to vote there because it says ‘Democratic’ on the side of the building.”
Hudak promised the election board he would remove the Barack Obama murals from his building and make the wheelchair ramp ADA accessible by Wednesday. The board plans to send one of its members to inspect the premises Wednesday.