A shift is coming in the ways Hoosiers can cast their ballots.
Democrats in St. Joseph County are waving the flag to slow down the county’s transition from voting precincts to vote centers. They claim there isn’t enough time before the 2014 primary election to put together fully functioning vote centers. Over in Elkhart County, officials seem to be rapidly moving forward with the switch.
“It’ll be more convenient,” explained Terry Rodino, president of the Elkhart County commissioners.
Vote centers will allow any registered voter to cast a ballot at any location, regardless of where their residence is located. On the current precinct system, voters must go to the designated location based on their address. Rodino said the inflexibility of the system can be inconvenient for people working and deters some from going to the polls.
According to Rodino, some of the most obvious benefits of switching to vote centers are “convenience” and the “opportunity to get more people to vote.”
Elkhart County began looking at the vote center model in 2011. Elkhart County clerk, Wendy Hudson, was given the task to form a committee to look at the options for possible locations and vendors.
Plans to implement electronic vote centers fell through in 2013 due to inadequate local funding to purchase electronic poll books or tabulation equipment. The county has since looked at the models of the three Indiana pilot programs started in 2007 and how they adapted and shifted cost throughout the course of running vote centers.
Now, Hudson and Rodino said Elkhart County is capable of moving forward with the six bids to electronic ballot companies. Each of those bids must be approved by the state to meet Indiana’s minimum standards.
Elkhart County must have no fewer than 13 vote centers based on population and need. Hudson said they’ve already received some form of commitment from 13 locations throughout the county and are looking at potentially seven more spots to use as centers.
The goal is to have centers as well distributed cross the county as possible so that people can have easy and convenient access to them.
CHEAPER POLL COSTS
Hudson said the cost to run 117 voting precincts is expensive. Each precinct is staffed by multiple poll workers from both parties, each of whom is provided meals throughout the day. By cutting the overhead accumulated by more than 500 workers and 100-plus physical precincts, Hudson said expenses could be more than halved.
Switching to electronic polls will decrease the paper waste from unused paper ballots.
“Right now we’re required to have a ballot for everyone that is registered to vote in the county. When we have 16-percent turnout, we have a lot of waste. Moving to vote centers, using touch screen equipment, you eliminate ballot waste” Hudson added.
So far Rodino said the commissioners have primarily received positive feedback from the community. However, the clerk’s office explained there is some concern that some of the polling locations may be farther away from more rural county residents.
Elkhart County has until Mar. 6, to file its plans with the state, complete with locations and equipment leased, in order to use the vote centers in the 2014 elections.