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Board OKs vote centers; council, commissioners up next

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Bartholomew County’s Election Board has unanimously approved adopting vote centers, which could be used for the first time in the 2015 city election.

The new voting procedure must still be approved by the county council and county commissioners.

Bartholomew County is in the process of joining about a dozen Indiana counties that have changed to the vote center concept since 2007.

With the new election system, voters would be able to cast their ballots at 17 centers throughout the county, rather than being required to vote within a particular precinct.

In a city election, seven vote centers are planned.

County election and voter registration workers Thursday were drafting a resolution to be sent to the county commissioners, seeking vote-center approval. The vote to move the proposal forward was made at a 50-minute Election Board meeting Wednesday at the courthouse.

The original proposal sought to have the centers for the 2014 county election. The resolution must be rewritten to reflect the change to 2015, County Clerk Tami Hines said.

If approved by the commissioners, the resolution moves on to the county council for approval.

The delay to 2015 resulted from concerns in part about capacity for the county’s voting machines, Hines said. The county’s voting machines are not designed for the number of votes that each machine would have to handle in a vote center. Larger memory cards may be needed, Hines said.

The county has until Dec. 31 to send its proposal to the state election division to be ready for vote centers in 2015, said Jay Phelps, a supervisor in the election and voter registration office.

A decision on whether to lease or buy the software and hardware needed for vote centers has not been made, Hines said.

To purchase, the cost would be $204,975, and to lease would be about a third less, at $135,466.

County officials are waiting for further information from the state, as Indiana requires certification of the electronic poll books used in vote centers, Hines said. Electronic poll books are the technology that connects all the centers together and guarantees voters can only vote once per election. The county must make sure, whether buying or leasing, that the equipment is state-certified, Hines said.

A vote-center feature that is particularly attractive to some voters is the opportunity to cast a ballot early. As many as seven vote-center locations would be open each of the two Saturdays before the election in a countywide election. Now, early voting is only allowed at the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

For a city election, three vote-center satellite locations in addition to the Bartholomew County Courthouse would be used for early voting.

Bartholomew County began studying vote centers in 2011, the same year the Indiana Legislature approved allowing counties to adopt the new

voting system, Hines said. Vote centers were used for the first time in Wayne, Tippecanoe and Cass counties in 2007 on a trial basis.

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