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Should Bartholomew County adopt a plan to end a decades-long tradition of voting by precincts, instead giving eligible residents the opportunity to cast their ballots at a voting center of their choice, it appears that the earliest system could be put into place by 2015 and then only for the city of Columbus.
While that might frustrate some voters who still harbor bad memories of the 2012 general election during which many had to stand in line for several hours, it is important that officials get it right from the start if the county is to go to vote centers.
The option was given to Indiana’s 92 counties by the 2011 General Assembly, and several quickly adopted the system that gives voters the opportunity to cast their ballots at any one of a number of voting centers in the county instead of being limited to the voting precinct where they are registered.
While several Bartholomew County officials have indicated interest in such a system, they have also taken a cautionary approach before coming to a final decision.
There are a number of long-term benefits to the voting center approach, one being the elimination of the need to staff 57 voting precincts. Each voting place requires five officers, who are paid between $171 and $201, an amount that includes their day at the polls, a two-hour meeting on the weekend before the election and setting up the machines on the night before the election.
The total estimated cost for the general election of 2012 in Bartholomew County was $88,792.
Under the voting center plan, 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, according to Bartholomew County Clerk Tami Hines. The location of the vote centers still is being discussed, 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.”
One of the drawbacks to the new system would be initial costs of either refurbishing the current electronic equipment or buying new equipment. The refurbished equipment would cost $215,000, and new equipment would require $290,000.
Adapting either of those systems to Bartholomew County will require additional steps beyond the transformational change to the precinct system that has been in place since the 19th century.
A final decision by the various governmental bodies involved is still weeks away. A committee formed to research the subject has finished its work and will bring it to the public in a yet-to-be announced public session.
Because of the steps that have to be taken, county officials suggest that the earliest election in which voting centers could be employed would be the 2015 municipal election in Columbus.
That’s more than two years in the future, but in such an important matter it is vital that the first experience go as smoothly as possible. With the reduced turnout that is typical of municipal elections, officials will have time to properly address any unexpected problems.
There were a number of people who were upset at the long lines of the 2012 election. Repeating that scenario in the introductory year of a switch to a new system could leave lasting memories and discourage some voters.
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