363-days a year, South Bend’s West Side Democratic Club is a club for Democrats and some say it’s too inherently partisan to serve as an Election Day polling place the remaining two days a year.
“It was a point that I felt that needed to be made, that it’s just crazy,” said St. Joseph County Republican Party Chairman Dr. Deb Fleming. “I really was shocked when I realized and found out that the West Side Democratic Club was a polling place, so once I realized that I was asking questions about why is it, and how can we change it.”
Fleming today had her chance to argue for change before the St. Joseph County Election Board. She testified that there are six guidelines used to select polling places. One is that the location be “non-partisan.”
“They have all the candidates’ signs up there, they have a picture image of President Obama, it says “vote for hope Nov. 4th, so you know that’s been up there for the last four years.”
It’s true that two of the building’s exterior walls feature a painted image of the president’s face along with the words “vote hope.”
When the election board president asked what the club owner planned to do about the images, West Side Democratic Club President Tim Hudak replied; “That will be removed, I will remove it so that that will be not present.”
The election board also expressed concern about the condition of a wheelchair ramp leading up to the front door of the club, saying it was in disrepair.
Hudak told the board that the ramp would be replaced by Wednesday of this week.
In the end, the board voted 2 to 1 along party lines to continue to allow voting at the club, provided that the images of the president were removed from the building and the ramp was repaired.
“I'm still concerned about the name, I’m wondering if they can like put a sheet over the name so people can come in and know that it’s just a polling location and not a Democratic club,” said Dr. Fleming.
“Well I think that insults the intelligence of the voter,” replied St. Joseph County Democratic Party Chairman John Broden. “Frankly people are going to go and vote for the candidate of their choice, they're not going to be persuaded to vote one way or the other simply because of the title on the building.”
Broden feared that moving the polling place elsewhere would do a lot more harm than good for a voting population that is largely elderly. “You know, I have concerns anytime you have an election occur in one place in the primary and then move that polling place in the general election, I think it could cause confusion for the voters.”
The west side club has served as a polling place since 1952.