SJC County Commissioners unanimously vote to consolidate Voter Registration Office

St. Joseph County Clerk’s Office will now be responsible for voter registration
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 12:11 AM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The St. Joseph County Commissioners held a meeting debating a resolution that would abolish the board of voter registration.

This comes after the resolution was tabled at their last meeting on Jan. 17th.

The County Commissioners tell 16 News Now that the idea behind this resolution was to increase transparency and save the county money, and on Tuesday night, they took a step forward in enacting this change.

At the County Commissioners Meeting on Tuesday Night, the commissioners voted unanimously to pass Resolution R-1-C-2023 to consolidate the Board of Voter Registration and transfer the responsibility to the Office of the County Clerk.

The County Commissioners tell 16 New Now that the idea behind this resolution was to increase transparency and save the county money. And tonight, they took a step forward in enacting this change.

They claim over $230,000 will be saved yearly in salary, taxes, and benefits.

“There will be a reduction in the personnel from 8 people to 4 people, with the argument that they will be cross-trained so that they can help out in non-election times with other duties within the clerk’s office, but also so that other people in the clerk’s office may be able to help out if needed during really heavy times in voter registration,” says the Spokesperson for the League of Women Voters South Bend and professor at Indiana University South Bend, Dr. Elizabeth Bennion.

The original proposal suggested an uneven number of Voter Registration members, with five. After backlash from the public over a possible political advantage, the Board of Commissioners revised the number to four to remain balanced.

“In the spirit of making sure that it is bi-partisan and that there are two republicans and two democrats, we took that provision out and just left it that it would always be a 50/50 split,” St. Joseph County Commissioner Carl Baxmeyer (R) said.

As the County Clerk, Amy Rolfes will be tasked with picking two Republicans and two Democrats to work on voter registration.

“The issue is trust,” St. Joseph County Resident Mike McManus said. “The issue isn’t whether there’s 50/50 democrat and republican, it’s how that person, how those people are going to be chosen.”

Indiana Law states that your political affiliation is determined by how you voted in the last two elections.

Voter Registration members of the Clerk’s office can also be recommended based on permission from the political party chair at the county level.

Dr. Bennion told 16 News Now that if this change was going to happen, it should happen in a municipal election year.

“Municipal elections, of course, are real elections, so it’ll be really important to get it right, but there are lower numbers of voters in those city-wide elections for mayor, city clerk, and city council, and so there are less forms to process, which will allow them to have more time to learn how to do the job right,” Dr. Bennion added.

The location for the voter registration division of the Clerk’s Office is yet to be determined.

Based on public confusion at the meeting on Tuesday, it is important to note that the Voter Registration Office works with the election board, but they do not directly deal with elections.

Before the vote, St. Joseph County was among only three counties in Indiana that still had separate clerks and voter’s registration offices.

In anticipation of the meeting, the local League of Women Voters released a statement saying they would not take a position one way or another but said in part that they “look forward to working with county officials in charge of voter registration to ensure that eligible voters have the information and access they need to exercise their right to vote.”