October 1, 2008

S.L. Council Backs Search for Polling Place to Replace Zoo Over Worries of Bias

By Arthur Raymond Deseret News

The search is on for a new polling site for two east-side Salt Lake voting precincts currently slated to cast their ballots at Hogle Zoo -- a location that has raised eyebrows in light of the $33 million bond initiative for which the institution is seeking voter approval.

The Salt Lake County Council supported on a 7-1 vote, County Clerk Sherrie Swensen's continued search for an alternative, but is willing to keep the zoo site if her office is unsuccessful. Swensen said Monday that new federal requirements for polling places have reduced the number of options for the type of building that can play host to voters on Election Day.

"It not's like the old days when you could do it anywhere that was big enough and had parking," Swensen said. "The Help America Vote Act requires us to meet strict regulations on access issues."

Swensen said that the previous polling location, Salt Lake City Fire Station No. 10, is no longer available, and a concerted search by her office has yet to find a suitable substitute for the zoo location.

Council members had mixed opinions on the significance of the connections voters would make between the polling location and the funding initiative. Councilman Joe Hatch discounted the possibility of bias.

"I don't think having a polling place there is going to affect one single vote," Hatch said.

Other members registered concerns about how the public may perceive the decision, especially if the final tally on the zoo's bond is close. Councilman David Wilde urged caution on the matter.

"I feel like there's such a direct connection between the zoo bonding issue and voting at the zoo," Wilde said. "We should do all we can to avoid any appearance of impropriety."

After the vote, Swensen said she has her election manager and others scouring the area but the last chance to move the polling site was fast approaching.

"Our polling place notices go to the printer Oct. 8," Swensen said. "That's the last day we can make a change."

-- In other council business, elimination of the HB40 sunset clause was unanimously approved as the board's No. 1 state legislative priority in next year's session. Currently, HB40 protects townships in Salt Lake County from annexation by municipalities through 2010. A survey mandated by the Legislature and released in August showed that more than half of the residents of townships countywide want their areas to stay townships -- a response the council cites as a mandate to battle the 2010 expiration.

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