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Column: Voting centers on hold, good judgment call by county


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BARTHOLOMEW County officials have exercised good judgement in holding off on any premature decisions about adopting voting centers to replace the antiquated precinct system still in use today.

While there are ample reasons to make the switch — chiefly the user-friendly amenities vote centers offer and the money that can be saved the county through reduced staffing costs — local officials want to make sure such a system is a good fit for Bartholomew County, and they especially want to get it right on Day One.

Certainly this year’s presidential race, which some officials believe will draw a record number of voters, would have posed too many problems for a first

effort.

Some records already have been set, an indication of voter interest.

As of the first of the month, the Bartholomew County Election Board had received more than 514 requests for absentee ballots. That was 300 more during the same period in 2008 which is considered one of the heaviest voting elections in history.

A proposal now under discussion would be to establish up to seven vote centers in Bartholomew County for the 2014 election. If the proposal is approved, voters would be allowed to cast ballots at any one of the centers, regardless of where they live.

That’s a definite advantage against the county’s current system in which voters are assigned one of 50 places where they can cast ballots.

It is an arcane system that has frequently frustrated many voters, particularly when precincts or their voting places are moved.

The costs of operating those voting places are significant. So too is the task of finding enough workers to staff each precinct adequately.

The benefits of reducing the voting places from 50 to seven should be obvious, even when considering that extra personnel will be needed to maintain a steady traffic flow in the reduced number of stations.

According to the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, each of Indiana’s 92 counties will save money should they convert to the voting center system.

While the savings should be considered a major factor, the main benefit that should be considered is the potential to increase participation in the electoral process.

Although voting should be looked upon as a privilege that citizens should be proud to exercise, there need be no requirement that the process be difficult.

In recent years, steps have been taken to remove barriers that might discourage would-be voters.

The establishment of early voting periods in which residents can cast their ballots prior to Election Day has been quite popular.

Whether these user-friendly programs have significantly increased voting percentages is still debatable. Some local critics argue that the systems are primarily used by individuals who are regular voters anyway.

Be that as it may, the benefits of programs like vote centers and early voting outweigh any concerns that citizens are being coddled into exercising one of the most important privileges they enjoy.

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