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May 13, 2014

Vote centers a week later: How did they do?

TERRE HAUTE — Food markets and grocery stores were the most popular sites in Vigo County to cast a ballot in last week’s primary election. Baesler’s Market led all vote centers with 1,967 votes cast, followed by Kroger North with 1,447 ballots cast.

The Vigo County Annex was the third highest, with 1,094 ballots cast.

In the case of Baesler’s Market, popularity resulted in a long line that stretched the width of the store. There were 75 voters still in line when polls closed at 6 p.m. By law, those in line were allowed to cast a ballot.

“Voting was open weeks before the election at Baesler’s and at other sites. The idea of the centers was to promote early voting,” said Vigo County Clerk David Crockett. “I don’t know how to get voters out early.”

While not vote centers, Vigo County first used a similar idea in 2006, with four satellite vote sites. There were 3,621 voters who cast an absentee ballot then. Last week, about 4,100 cast early absentee ballots.

By the general election of 2008, in a presidential election year, those satellite sites grew to 14,931 ballots cast. Based on that history, Crockett said voters may frequent vote centers earlier before a general election as they become familiar with voting at any location in the county.

“I thought we had some other good places that were close to the grocery stores that people could vote in. We also had similar places, once that were precincts before, which is why we had vote centers at Booker T. Washington and at the VFW,” Crockett said.

The Vigo County Election Board is expected to certify the election results on Friday. Crockett said that is when the board will likely start a discussion on how well each vote center functioned.

The clerk said some sites may have to have more voting machines for the fall election, if there is available room. Two machines were added to the Vigo County Public Library during the primary election to help move voters through the line quicker. Baseler’s Market, Crockett said, was limited to five voting machines.

Crockett said the Election Board could even move a vote center to another location.

“I didn’t want to have to rent some place at The Meadows shopping center or at Plaza North. That would have defeated what I was trying to do, which is to save some money. You truly have to do the best with what you have,” the clerk said, adding the county is fortunate to have businesses that donated space for voting.

In Clay County, each vote center had eight machines, said Vigo County Clerk Vicki Wheeler.

As did Vigo County, Clay County opted to use vote centers in the primary election, moving to eight voting sites from 23 precincts.

Clay County’s biggest vote center was the National Guard Armory on Indiana 59, where 767 ballots were cast. The second largest was Grace Chapel, a church along U.S. 40 that formerly housed a car dealership. That center had 586 ballots cast.

“Our system used [Apple] IPads. Our election went really, really well,” Wheeler said. “Everybody loved them and workers loved them and people were in and out within 5 minutes or less.”

Clay County had 25.4 percent voter turnout. The county had 19,198 registered voters with 4,879 casting a ballot. Vigo County, with 76,586 registered votes, had a voter turnout of 16.6 percent. There were 12,721 ballots cast in the primary election.

“I think that was the greatest decision we made for Clay County, to go to vote centers. I had a little flack from some, but I think that is maybe because it is something new. But we got all compliments after the election,” Wheeler said.

All vote totals for Vigo and Clay County are unofficial until certified by election boards in each county, which should come on Friday.

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