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May 1, 2014

Secretary of State gets reports of good early voter turnout

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson on Wednesday visited two vote center locations in Clay and Vigo counties, where she heard reports of a good early voter turnout and a well-received new voting system.

Clay and Vigo are two of eight new counties implementing vote centers — polling places where any eligible voter in the county may go to vote — for the 2014 primary election. Vote centers use Internet connection and an electronic poll book.

Lawson’s first stop in the afternoon visit was the Clay County Courthouse in Brazil where she met with voters, pollworkers and Clay County Clerk Victoria Wheeler.

Wheeler told Lawson there has been an increase in early voter turnout this year compared with the previous primary. She also said there were 598 early voters as of noon on Wednesday —  less than a week before primary election day — compared with 580 total in the last primary election.

Lawson then traveled to the Vigo County Annex to observe early voting in Vigo. At the vote center, Lawson met Vigo County Clerk David Crockett and interacted with pollworkers and voters. Crockett explained to Lawson how the new technology in Vigo works and also reported a good early voter turnout.

In the 2010 primary, the early voter turnout was 1,894, Crockett said, but Wednesday’s numbers already show a turnout of 2,167.

“I think the great part about it is both counties have had better turnout than they did in 2010,” Lawson told the Tribune-Star toward the end of her tours. While she still believes the candidates and the issues drive the turnout, she also thinks voters are curious about the new technology and have come out to explore them.

The increase of early votes may potentially help in reducing the lines come election day, she said.

But because the system is new, some people may be nervous or uncertain about using it at first, Lawson learned from her visits. But after voters get used to it, Lawson sees no disadvantages to the vote center system or the technology.

“People are usually concerned when there’s change, and I understand that,” Lawson said.

Vigo went from having 87 precincts to now having 18 vote centers; Clay had 23 precincts and now has eight vote centers.

One of the new features in Clay is the use of an iPad to check voters in.

“How are the pollworkers liking it?” Lawson asked Wheeler, who answered that pollworkers are doing well with the new technology.

Lawson heard the same when she spoke to pollworkers Karolyn Wegner and Shirley Vanes.

“I really like this. It’s a lot easier. A lot faster,” Wegner, who has been a pollworker for 10 years, told Lawson.

“It’s a whole lot less paperwork than it was,” Wegner said.

Clay County early voter Tony Bonilla only took about 10 minutes to complete the entire process — from walking in the door to leaving.

“I love it,” Bonilla said of the system. “It’s great.” The best part was that the candidates’ names already appear on the touchscreen and he just had to push the button.

Vigo County early voter Susan Akers McCarty — who was at the Annex — said voting was “fairly easy.”

“It wasn’t complicated,” and the pollworkers were very helpful, she said.

In Vigo County, Lawson talked to pollworkers including Phyllis Ling and Alden Donna, who explained to her the features of the new technology in Vigo and told her about voters’ reactions.

“I think people were a little worried because it’s computerized but pleased that it was touchscreen,” Ling said. “It seemed to go much easier than they thought.”

In 2012, there were seven counties in Indiana that adopted the vote center system. This year, there are 16, including Vigo and Clay.

While Lawson is a proponent of vote centers — which is a system that she described as more efficient, user-friendly and less costly — she also believes each county should make the determination whether vote centers are right for them, she said.

Having vote centers in different locations — schools, businesses and even grocery stores — helps in getting people to vote, Lawson said.

“What I’m hearing here [Vigo] and Clay, they have been taking their locations where the people are.”

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