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Voting centers up for debate


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The Bartholomew County Election Board is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a possible switch to an election system that lets voters cast ballots at any of 17 interconnected centers rather than go to a particular precinct.

The new concept — which has taken root in at least a dozen Indiana counties since 2007 — also would provide seven locations for early voting on each of the two Saturdays before elections, Bartholomew County Clerk Tami Hines said. Currently, early voting takes place only at the Bartholomew County Courthouse.

If the county chooses to buy the software and hardware necessary to have the centers up in time for the next election, the cost to taxpayers will be $204,975, Hines said. If the county chooses to lease the equipment, the cost would be $135,466, or about one-third less.

Both of those financial quotes take into account savings from reducing the number of required staffers at polling places on election day.

Two months ago, county officials conducted a public hearing on the voting center concept, which has been phased in for elections in a number of other counties in Indiana.

Opinions were split on whether the new voting centers were necessary and whether the locations eventually selected would be accessible to all residents.

Others asked how the new system would function, and questioned whether an Internet connection linking multiple polling locations into a single tallying system would be sufficient.

County officials said backup systems built into the technology would provide a smooth operation, and digital poll books connecting all the centers would guarantee that everyone votes just once per election.

Vote centers were used for the first time in Indiana in Wayne, Tippecanoe and Cass counties in 2007 on a trial basis. A study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute three years later said counties could save money by switching to such a centralized system.

In 2011, the General Assembly approved legislation making vote centers an option for any county that wanted to try the concept. By the middle of last year, 12 of 92 Indiana counties had switched to vote centers, and the Bartholomew County Election Board started to seriously consider the idea.

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