Bartholomew County residents will begin voting in a slightly different way a year from now because of the use of vote centers.
That will be a welcome change.
The county in 2011 first discussed the idea of replacing the traditional, neighborhood precincts with centralized voting centers. Vote centers gained final approval from the County Commissioners and County Council in February.
Cost, convenience and efficiency drove support for the change.
The county has 66 precincts, locations at which voters can cast their ballots. Unless people vote early at the county courthouse, request a mail-in ballot or need the traveling election board to come to their homes, the precinct is the only place for voters to cast ballots.
The precincts were located at 42 sites, as some locations hosted multiple precincts. Considering that each voting location is staffed by five poll workers, more than 200 paid volunteers were needed.
Securing enough poll workers is an ongoing challenge, as it was in the May 6 primary. A week before the election, the Bartholomew County Election Board called an emergency meeting because it needed to fill 27 poll-worker spots. The lack of contested local races on the Democratic Party ticket was called a contributing factor.
The county will need far fewer poll workers when vote centers — six in Columbus and 11 elsewhere in the county — are introduced next year. Only Clifty Township, which doesn’t have an available voting location that is handicap accessible and has Internet access, will not have a polling place of its own.
Vote centers will eliminate physical precincts with low numbers of registered voters and traditionally poor turnout, saving taxpayer money.
Precinct 3200 at Flintwood Wesleyan Church had just 11 registered voters in the primary, for example. Precinct 2850 at Community Church of Columbus and Precinct 3900 at the parks and recreation building in Edinburgh each had 5 percent voter turnout.
While it should be expected that some people will be upset by the loss of neighborhood precincts, they should consider that the use of vote centers will provide them with more places and opportunities to cast their ballots. Voters will have six places instead of one on Election Day to cast their ballot in city elections. That increases to 17 places during county elections.
Also, the county’s vote center plan calls for the use of seven satellite locations for early voting.
The Bartholomew County Voter Registration and Election Office will continue to offer daily voting a month in advance, plus two Saturdays prior to the election. Adding Donner Center will allow daily voting a week before the election, plus the Saturday prior. Five other locations around the county would be used for voting the two Saturdays prior to the election.
The reason registered voters will have more places to cast a ballot is because the Internet connects all of the voting centers, allowing each to have all of the ballots for the 66 precincts. And with the use of electronic poll books, a person’s driver’s license, identification card or passport can be used to process the voter’s information.
This will represent a significant change for voters, but one for the better.