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Voters at several precincts during last year’s general election encountered extremely long lines and waited hours to cast ballots.
Now, Bartholomew County officials are weighing a possible change to make voting easier and quicker.
They’re considering moving county residents from voting in their individual precincts to vote centers — centralized locations where any registered voter in the county can cast a ballot.
However, the change is unlikely to happen until the 2015 city election, at the earliest, county officials said.
The Bartholomew County Election Board, County Commissioners and County Council all would have to approve a switch to voting centers, before the county could make the change. And while the county is investigating the options, none of those entities has voted on the change.
The Indiana General Assembly approved in 2011 legislation giving all of the state’s counties the option to move to voting centers instead of individual polling places in each precinct.
County Clerk Tami Hines said a committee formed to consider the issue has finished its research and likely will schedule a public session next month to present its findings and hear public input.
“We could go through this whole process, and the public outcry could be, ‘We don’t want it,’ and we decide we don’t do it,” Hines said.
While the change would save county election officials the headache of finding, outfitting and staffing more than 60 precinct polling places, it would cost $210,000 for refurbished voting equipment or $290,000 for new equipment to make the change, Hines said.
Bartholomew County must prepare for each election more than 50 separate ballots to be loaded on voting machines in the appropriate precinct, because of the varied districts in the county for statehouse seats, various councils and school boards.
With voting centers, voters from across the county could cast their ballot at any of the voting centers, and every machine at each site would be capable of offering any of the precinct ballots.
But the tallying card reader on the current machines cannot be programmed to accept those multiple ballots, Hines said. So, the county would either have to upgrade the existing machines or buy new or refurbished equipment, she added.
“When they were created, they were created to vote at a precinct which is meant to have no more than 1,200 to 1,500 voters, and one ballot on it,” Hines said.
Buying new or refurbished machines would allow the county to move to voting centers more quickly and could be accomplished in time for next year’s countywide elections, she said. But if the less costly refurbishing option is chosen, the work could not be finished and certified in time for the 2014 elections, Hines said.
Both cost estimates would include electronic poll books, which connect to each other through the Internet to ensure voters do not cast ballots at more than one location, Hines said.
The county would be looking at 13 polling locations on election days, and would offer early voting weeks ahead of the election at a central Donner Center polling location, Hines said. The location of the vote centers still is being discussed, she said, but the intention would be to put a center at each corner of the county and several in Columbus.
“Part of the thing that will make vote centers work will be satellite options; we are going to have Saturday voting at several of these locations,” Hines said. “Election Day you are bound by law to have voting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the other days you can vary those hours.”
Paul Franke, a former county commissioner and member of the committee studying the issue, said last month that the benefit of implementing voting centers for next year’s election would be the lower turnout in a non-presidential election year would allow the county to work out the bugs before the presidential, gubernatorial and mayoral elections in 2015.
County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said last month that he was concerned that the there would be a bottleneck at the voting centers, taking even more time for voters to cast their ballots.
Hines said she believed the largest part of the problem in last year’s general election was the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. request for funding for pre-kindergarten programs. Hines said she thought the complicated question slowed voters and led to backups.
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