I. In Focus This Week
Polling place profile: Benjamin Harrison slept here
Presidential site makes debut as Indy polling place
By M. Mindy Moretti
Editor’s Note: From time to time we like to feature cool or unique polling places. If you’ve got a unique polling place location you’d like to see featured, let us know!
Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States serving one term from 1889 to 1893.
While Benjamin Harrison may not have been as notorious a president as his grandfather, William Henry Harrison was, Benjamin Harrison did open Ellis Island and commissioned the Pledge of Allegiance.
He was also known as an advocate for African-American voting rights.
Therefore, it seems only right that his home in Indiana, where he lived before and after his four years in Washington, D.C. now serves as a polling place in Indianapolis.
While we can’t say for certain this is the only polling place where a president slept — George Washington seems to have slept in a lot of places on the East Coast — a quick review finds that this appears to be the only official Presidential site that serves as a modern-day polling place.
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site made its polling place debut this spring and by all accounts, it was a huge hit not only with voters, but also the poll workers who got to spend their day at a historical site.
“Civic engagement is central to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site’s mission to, ‘increase public understanding of, appreciation for, and participation in the American system of self-government through the life stories, arts and culture of an American President,’” explained Charles Hyde, president and CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. “As a privately funded nonprofit that receives no direct federal funding, this is a very public, non-partisan way for us to demonstrate our commitment to supporting our neighborhood and our community.”
Jennifer Pacala with the Office of Corporation Counsel for the City of Indianapolis — the entity that chooses polling places in Indy — said once the Corporation Counsel determined that the site met ADA and parking requirements it was an easy decision to move the polling place there.
“The management of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site contacted us offering the use of their facility,” Pacala said. “Upon review of the area, it made sense to relocate a precinct across the street from the historical site that had been voting two precincts away at a crowded public school.”
The polling place was in the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site’s Welcome Center, located in a historic reconstruction of the president’s carriage house. This space is immediately adjacent to the main house, and allowed for more room for voting machines, poll workers, voters and all the other trappings necessary for an election.
“As we were able to schedule our exhibits around the voting, no special accommodations were necessary,” Hyde said. “The City of Indianapolis/Marion County was a great partner, and very helpful in making the process simple and straightforward.”
According to Hyde and elections officials, things went very well for the first outing as a polling place. Hyde noted that the neighborhood truly embraced the new site and its significance.
“It was truly a community affair, with many people walking and biking to vote,” Hyde said. “A number of voters expressed how cool and meaningful it was to vote in a place of national significance.”
Hyde said the site is looking forward to being a polling place for many years to come, especially during presidential election years when the location will have even greater significance.
He also hopes to serve as an example for others.
“The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is honored to serve as a polling place, and hope that our example inspires other presidential sites and organizations to do the same,” Hyde said.
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