TERRE HAUTE —
Vote centers can reduce costs of equipment and poll workers and permit voters to cast a ballot outside their traditional precinct, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said Friday in Terre Haute.
Lawson, a former Hendricks County clerk and former state senator, facilitated a regional meeting at the First Financial Bank Conference Center for county election officials to consider using a vote center model as an alternative to traditional voting precincts in elections.
“We really just want to have a conversation with the clerks in a casual atmosphere where they can learn about vote centers and will feel comfortable asking questions and they can determine for their county what is right for them to do,” Lawson said.
Lawson said vote centers are about the voter.
“Mostly it is convenience for the voter, because there is no wrong place on election day in that county for a voter to vote,” Lawson said. “Usually vote centers are located in high traffic areas. Some counties have used malls, they have used grocery stores and used popular restaurants.”
Friday’s meeting brought clerks, county commissioners and election officials from Sullivan, Clay, Owen, Greene and Vigo counties and was the third of 13 planned meetings Lawson will conduct.
“Vote centers also help cash-strapped [county] governments which spend on average of $100,000 per election. This is an opportunity [for counties] to reduce the number of locations and possibly reduce the number voting equipment as well poll workers. So there is an opportunity for them to save money,” Lawson said.
Vigo County has 87 voting precincts, located in 56 polling places during the 2012 elections. The total cost of the 2012 primary and general elections in Vigo County was nearly $554,000, said county Auditor Tim Seprodi.
Brad King, co-counsel of the Indiana Election Division, said one voting center is required for every 10,000 registered voters “plus any fraction past that.” So if a county has 20,001 registered voters, that could would require three voting centers, King said.
Vigo County has 76,541 registered voters, meaning the county would need a minimum of eight vote centers. A unanimous vote from the county election board is required, followed by approved resolutions from the county council and board of county commissioners to enact vote centers, Lawson said.
Judith Anderson, president of the Vigo County Board of Commissioners, who attended the meeting, said she supports the use of vote centers. Also, Anderson said she would favor the use of as many vote centers as possible as absentee voting sites prior to an election.
“The interest of the people’s vote is what we are looking for, and that is who we need to accommodate,” Anderson said. “I think initially there will probably be a cost to get this all set up, but when looking at the potential outcome, it is phenomenal. That is what this country is based on, the peoples’ votes.”
Vigo County Clerk David Crockett, who also attended the meeting, said he has “a great amount of interest” in voting centers.
“I know that there are questions and lot of things to be looked at, but I also know there are counties in the state already using them. I know that we have a great expense in elections for a number of years and I know when we had satellite voting, voting increased,” Crockett said.
Crockett said the county has started a process for vote centers, but said the location of vote centers must be determined to best benefit voters. “It will make it a lot more convenient for people rather than having to worry about getting back to their precinct to vote,” he said.
Lawson said there are initial costs, especially if a county replaces its voting equipment. If equipment is retained, only electronic poll books, ranging from $3,500 to $5,000 each, would be required. The electronic poll books are in “real time” during an election, which when a voter has cast a ballot, all other voting centers would know that person has voted, Lawson said.
“There is a need for a good Internet connection at each voting center,” she added.
Lawson said one vote center, in addition to a site at the county clerk’s office, must be open prior to an election as an absentee ballot site. Many counties with vote centers use half their sites for absentee voting, she said.
In 2007, Tippecanoe, Wayne and Cass counties served as “pilot” counties for voting centers. Lawson, as a state senator, later authored legislation to make vote centers optional for all Indiana counties. Now seven counties — Vanderburgh, Tippecanoe, Switzerland, Blackford, Cass, Wayne, Johnson — offer vote centers, with Floyd County to offer voting centers in 2014.
“We are also sure that Howard County is pretty close,” Lawson said. “We think there will be nine counties for sure by 2014 with voting centers.”
Lawson said counties would be required to mail voters a postcard, with a barcode, which the voter would turn in when casting a ballot. Tippecanoe County has since installed the capability of using a swipe for driver’s licenses, which reads the barcode on the license.
King said that because there currently are not requirements that electronic poll books be certified by the state, he recommended that counties consider books that contain a signature pad for a voter to sign, have the capability to swipe a state driver’s license for voter identification and have the ability display the original signature of a voter from an existing county poll book for comparison of signatures.
Karen Weaver, a member of the Owen County Election Board, said Owen County is a rural county and one option that she thinks could be explored is the use of a new library bus as a mobile voting center.
“It would be worthwhile to see if that is feasible,” Weaver said, adding she would have to research if it can be secured and meet state voting standards.
While Owen County would likely be required to have three voting centers, if it enacted the centers, Weaver said she thinks the county would need five — one in each direction and one in the middle of the county.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.