Schools ruled out as polling places under Vote Center plan

Public input is being sought on a plan designed to make elections in St. Joseph County less costly for taxpayers, and more convenient for voters.

The so called Vote Center proposal will be the subject of a public hearing set for September 5th.

Plans call for the first centers to debut during the Primary Election of 2014.

The Vote Center proposal is designed to be more in tune with the times. For instance, it no longer calls upon schools to serve as polling places given the high priority educators now place on keeping strangers out of school buildings.

“We ended up at some libraries, we ended up at mostly churches, we ended up at the Croc Center, hopefully, they will say yes,” said St. Joseph County Clerk Terri Rethlake. “Places that, you know, are kind of new like the Ice Athletic Center and the Ice Box.

Furthermore, one in five people who cast ballots last fall did not do so on Election Day, and did not do so at their designated polling place.

“In St. Joseph County, more people are voting absentee than ever before,” said Terri Rethlake.

The vote center plan calls for a three-fold increase in the number of sites that would host absentee or ‘early’ voting (for a total of 6). “One in the TRANSPO transfer lot for a week or two so we can get those people who use the bus routes a lot,” said Rethlake.

Those who cast ballots on Election Day could do so at any one of the 40 Vote Centers spread across the county, as opposed to being assigned to vote at a single polling place close to home.

“As a society we're much more mobile now. We don't have neighborhood grocery stores anymore, we, with school choice, parents are dropping their kids off at schools that may not necessarily be in the neighborhoods where they live,” said Frank Fotia with St. Joseph County Voter Registration.

The vote center plan also offers significant savings. The county spent about $780,000 on its last election, which required a staff of some 1,500 workers. About 300 workers would satisfy the staffing needs of the Vote Center plan.

“One of the comments we get, if it ain't broke don't fix it, and which I agree with in general, but what we've seen is the voting concept we have now is a little broke,” said Kostielney.

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