Follow The Republic:
Bartholomew County voters could cast ballots in any of 17 centralized voting centers, including at least one in every township, under a proposal that is taking shape and is expected to be unveiled to the public late this month or in early November.
The county began working on voting center proposals in 2011, but the process became more imperative after long lines at some precincts during the 2012 presidential election. Those logjams were blamed on a complicated ballot question to fund early childhood education for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
Under a voting center plan, the traditional precinct-by-precinct voting system would be replaced by a series of centralized voting centers. The idea is that it would save money on election workers and make it easier for people to cast ballots at whichever center is most convenient for them. Early estimates are that a voting center plan could reduce the number of election workers by more than half.
Tami Hines, the Bartholomew County clerk, who oversees elections, said that because of Bartholomew County’s 51,832 registered voters, the county would be required to have a minimum of six voting centers — one for every 8,639 registered voters in the county. However, the current plan proposes twice that many. In municipal elections, there would be seven Columbus voting centers under the plan.
The plan also includes five satellite voting locations that would be open on two Saturdays before Election Day and two locations that would be open for longer periods in the days leading up to the election. Under the proposal, a center in the voter registration office in the courthouse would be open on weekdays 28 days before the election, and a satellite location at Donner Center would be open the week before the election.
The locations for all of the voting centers are being determined, Hines said. The proposal must be presented to the public in at least two open forums, with the first to be held by early next month.
Hines said that if the county decides to go with voting centers, she would prefer it be brought online by next year’s countywide election, rather than the smaller 2015 city election.
Election changes possible
WHAT: Bartholomew County is considering a plan to switch to a voting center election system. Instead of having 66 precincts voting at 49 polling places, there would be 17 voting centers placed strategically around the county where voters from any precinct could cast a ballot.
WHEN: Depending on public input and approval by the Election Board, County Council and County Commissioners, the plan could go into effect as early as next year during the countywide elections.
NEXT: Two public meetings, with the first coming up in late October or early November.
In countywide elections, there are now 49 polling places representing 66 precincts. Each polling place now must hire five people — a Republican and Democratic clerk and judge and a Republican inspector. Hines estimates that the personnel costs for the voting centers would be almost half the current personnel costs at $22,725 versus $43,855.
However, the county would have to buy new voting machines or upgrade its existing voting machines and buy electronic poll books for each voting center.
Each voting machine at every voting center would include electronic versions of all the county’s ballots, a capability that the current voting machines do not have. The cost for those upgrades is $239,457 to $302,913, which means it would be years before the county sees any overall cost savings from the voting center plan, Hines said.
Priscilla Scalf, chairwoman of the Bartholomew County Democratic Party and a member of the committee looking at the voting center proposals, said that she has had no problems lining up poll workers for elections and last year had a waiting list of workers. She said she thinks the voting centers could be a positive for the community, however, if the plan has enough locations.
“My biggest fear is that anytime you go to the number of precincts that you have, down to 17, that is a huge leap,” Scalf said. “My concern is for those people who might take a bus, who might walk. Who does that leave out from having access? I want to make sure that we have enough places and that we have enough satellite voting places beforehand.”
The Bartholomew County Council last week gave its blessing for the county to continue considering centralized voting centers, but council members are withholding judgment on the proposal until they see the final plan.
Council members voted last week to approve the process so far, but that vote is not binding on the final vote for or against approval of the plan, said Chris Monroe, the council’s attorney.
Council member Ryan Lauer said he does not yet know enough to decide whether he is in favor of the proposal.
“I am very eager to hear the opinions of people in the public,” Lauer said. “There are advantages and disadvantages for the average voter. The biggest advantage, I would say, is that you can go to any location to vote.”
A possible downside is that familiar voting locations will change, he said.
Council member Rob Kittle said that if Hines, as an elected official, felt the voting centers were worth pursuing, that the council should not stand in her way.
“If it has value and can improve the election process, I think it is important that we allow the public to have that input and allow them the opportunity to ask questions,” Kittle said. “I think we will get some sense of what kind of support there is from the public from those sessions.”
The ultimate decision will be made by the Election Board, the County Commissioners and the County Council, following the public meetings.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
Note: All comments left on our sites are first reviewed by an automated comment moderation system. Your comment may take up to 5 minutes to appear. If for any reason your comment can not be approved you will receive an email from this system with a detailed explanation.
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.