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March 23, 2013

Clerk aims for voting centers by 2014

Vigo official says he believes centers will eventually be mandatory

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County Clerk David Crockett aims to have vote centers in place for the 2014 election.

On Friday, he made that known to the Vigo County Election Board.

“I believe this is the direction we should work toward, but I don’t want to put in a lot of hours into this and not have anything in the end,” he said. “I think vote centers will happen in this state and be mandatory at some point. I would guess in five to seven years it will be something that everyone will have to go to.”

Voter centers do not require a voter to go to their precinct to cast a ballot on election day. Voters can simply go to any vote center in the county to vote.

Currently Vanderburgh, Tippecanoe, Switzerland, Blackford, Cass, Wayne and Johnson counties use vote centers and Floyd County will offer them in 2014. Howard County is nearing completion of steps needed to also offer the centers in 2014, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.

“I’d like to make Vigo County the 10th county with vote centers sometime this year, obviously way before the end of the year,” Crockett told the three member board. Crockett, as county clerk, is also a member of the board.

By law, the election board must unanimously approve the centers. It also requires the approval of the Vigo County Council and Vigo County Board of Commissioners.

The Election Board tabled the issue and is expected to make a final vote at 3 p.m. April 10.

During discussion, Crockett told the board he would like to have 15 to 17 vote centers in Vigo County. “I am thinking we would have eight or nine in the city [of Terre Haute] and another eight outside of the city,” he said.

By law, the county must have a voting site at the county courthouse open 30 days prior to an election. Crockett said he would like to expand on that, with four additional voting sites in the county open for two weeks prior to an election.

Those vote centers would likely be in the northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest parts of the county, he said.

Crockett said the county will have to convert to an electronic, non-paper ballot system, already in use in several other counties. That will save the county money by not having to print nearly 80,000 ballots.

“We will still have to keep some equipment that we still have. It will not eliminate paper ballots totally,” Crockett said, as those will be used by a voter traveling board.

Other savings, he said, would come in a reduction of election workers.

He estimates 250 to 275 workers would be needed on election day at vote centers. Currently, nearly 900 workers are needed, each paid close to or just over $100 a day. The cost of workers is about $88,000 to $90,000, Crockett said.

Crockett estimated about 22 workers would be needed daily in four vote centers open two weeks prior to the election.

Vigo County has 87 voting precincts, located in 56 polling places as of the 2012 election. The cost of the primary and general election was nearly $554,000.

Crockett said he has looked at ways to combine precincts.

“To be honest with you, it is virtually impossible,” Crockett said, “because of districts with city council, county council, state representatives and state senators. It is almost impossible to combine precincts.”

In addition, Crockett said he wants to remove precincts from voting in schools.

“I think for safety reasons, with the school corporation and what they are trying to do to improve safety at the schools, I don’t think it is good for us to open the schools up two days a year and let people walk in,” he said. “Plus it costs the school corporation as they in turn hire more security” for voting days.

Crockett has already held a citizens meeting to get input and earlier this month attended a regional meeting of county clerks on vote centers conducted by Secretary of State Connie Lawson.

Board President Michael A. Slagle asked if precincts would be eliminated.

Crockett said electronic poll books will record what precinct the voter is in. Centers do eliminate the need for a precinct as a voting site.

Slagle noted that using paper ballots also requires the Election Board to interpret the intention of a voter.

“If all electronic, there would not be any need to interpret what somebody’s intent was. If you go this route, you have to be willing to give that up as the cost of doing business,” he said.

Crockett said voters are given several options prior to casting a ballot. Crockett said the voter is asked if this is the ballot they wish to cast.

“I am not totally opposed to [vote centers], but I am not prepared to vote today, but I will be in a couple of weeks”  Slagle said, adding he would like to discusses the issue with other constituents. He recommended the board table the issue.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@

tribstar.com.


 

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