By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in the long run, vote centers will save Indiana counties money.
Lawson was in Kokomo Thursday to conduct a regional meeting on vote centers to provide information to county elections officials contemplating a vote center program.
Representatives from Howard, Miami, Tipton, Jay and Madison counties attended the meeting at the Howard County Government Annex.
Lawson said there are currently seven active vote centers in Indiana and two more approved for the 2014 election.
“I’m a proponent of vote centers,” she said, “but the decision has to be made by local officials. The vote center concept can reduce election year expenses in the long run.”
Indiana counties spend an annual average of $100,000 on elections.
Lawson said vote center costs involve buying equipment and educating voters to the new process.
She said six more counties are seriously considering implementing voter centers in 2014, among them is Howard County. Implementation has been delayed because the county didn’t have a draft plan that included the number and location of the proposed vote centers.
Kim Wilson, Howard County clerk, has estimated the county would save $310,132 over a four-year span, which would include three election cycles. Most of the savings comes from paying poll workers and providing meals for them. The cost of electronic poll books and new electronic voting machines has been estimated at $300,000.
Lawson said vote centers are convenient for voters and the county should find locations where voters are on a regular basis.
Some counties have used libraries, grocery stores, shopping malls and restaurants as vote centers, she said.
Although vote centers are believed to increase voter turnout, Lawson said, during the 2012 presidential election year, the turnout was comparable between counties with vote centers and those without.
Cass County, which was one of the pilot counties for vote centers, reported turnout in the 2012 general election at 51 percent, compared to 44 percent in Howard County.
“When counties originally went to the vote center concept, there was a slight increase in turnout,” Lawson said. “But it’s not really increasing voter turnout. It is increasing voter convenience.”
Lawson said both political parties have to support the vote center concept and be involved in the selection of vote center locations. She said locations should not put one party at a disadvantage.
Tippecanoe County went from 93 precincts to 19 vote center sites.
Cass County has seven vote centers on election day with six of them open for early voting.
Lawson said the first step in implementing vote centers is a resolution passed by the county council and county commissioner followed by formation of a study committee. The third step is a draft plan followed presentation of the plan at a public meeting with a 30-day comment period.
The next step involves a public meeting on the final plan and approval by unanimous vote of the election board, she said. The plan is then submitted to the Indiana Election Division.
“The final plan can be updated depending on the local experience,” Lawson said. “Counties should look at how they will handle municipal and special elections as part of any plan.”
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