Bartholomew County residents could cast their votes at centrally located vote centers instead of designated precincts as early as May 2014 if the concept secures unanimous approval from the Election Board.
But a lot has to happen for that idea to become reality, said Jim Holland, chairman of the Bartholomew County Election Board. A committee, which assembled in January to consider voting centers, is gathering information and attending meetings to see if the idea is worth proposing to the public.
One of those meetings occurred Monday afternoon, when Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson visited Columbus to explain the concept in detail and to answer people’s questions about how it might change the voting process.
The state piloted the concept of vote centers in 2007 in Tippecanoe, Wayne and Cass counties and has since expanded the option of creation to every county in Indiana.
Vote centers in Bartholomew County would establish five to seven large polling places instead of the county’s current 66 small precincts, officials have said. Voters would be allowed to vote at the location of their choice, no matter where they live.
The concept would put many voting machines at fewer polling places instead of an average of two machines per precinct. Those centers could go nearly anywhere, as long as the location has Internet service to meet voting needs.
Officials hope the centers would speed up voting times, in contrast to waits of more than two hours in some Bartholomew County precincts in the November presidential election.
Lawson has been touring the state to lay out the details so communities can decide for themselves if the centers are right for them. Accompanying her Monday were Wayne County Clerk Joanne Stewart and Johnson County Clerk Susie Misinec, both of whom have successfully launched the vote center concepts in their counties.
Stewart, who launched voting centers in Wayne County in 2007, said her office distributed a questionnaire to voters after the election that year and received only positive feedback.
Misinec, who launched voting centers in Johnson County in 2012, said comments that came to her office were mostly positive. She said the only negative comment was in regard to accessibility at a church designated as a voting center.
Bartholomew County Clerk Tami Hines said after the meeting that the study committee is exploring potential startup costs associated with starting vote centers.
Those centers use special hardware and software that let voters cast votes at central locations while at the same time ensuring individuals can’t cast ballots in more than one place.
Hines said the part that appeals to her most is that vote centers could be established nearly anywhere — a grocery store or mall, for example — and that they do not have to be open any set hours for early voting before Election Day.
She said the study committee is under no time constraint to make a recommendation to the Election Board about whether to try to sell the vote center plan to the public.