Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 4, 2014

Primary election is first test to Miami Co. vote centers

Officials say county set for Election Day with new style of voting

By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer

Peru — The primary election will pose the first real test to the newly implemented vote centers in Miami County, but officials say they anticipate the new style of voting will create a less stressful Election Day experience.

In Miami County, vote centers have trimmed down the previous 31 precinct polling places to just seven locations, but residents can now cast a ballot at any polling location in the county. Every location allows voters access to every ballot for each precinct.

Although most voters will turn out on Tuesday, residents participating in early voting over the last two weeks have given officials some idea of what to expect from vote centers, said Paul Wilson, the county’s deputy of voter registration.

“Although the voter turnout has been low, the poll workers enjoyed the vote-center system to a high degree,” he said. “Once they got going on it, they were really impressed with the electronic poll books. They took to it like a fish to water.”

Wilson said early voting statistics indicate residents like the flexibility of voting where they want. He said on the first Saturday early voting opened, more than 10 times as many people voted at county vote centers in Denver, Bunker Hill and Converse than at the courthouse.

“That was amazing. The courthouse was abandoned,” he said. “People were trying out the satellite vote center locations … Evidenced by last Saturday, it seemed to be an easy way for people to vote.”

Before the county adopted vote centers, residents could only cast ballots at the courthouse during early voting.

Wilson said preparing and implementing vote centers over the last few months has gone pretty smoothly, besides a few minor technical hiccups.

““It’s a very laborious process, and it caught some people by surprise,” he said. “There were a lot of people with emails time stamped at 11 p.m. to get this going … Any change will come with a new set of unexpected headaches, but with the help of the vendors, poll workers and courthouse staff, it’s been manageable.”

The hard work should pay off come Tuesday, when voters will have a chance to cast their ballot at any polling place in the county. Wilson said that should cut down on lines and make voting more convenient for residents.

Miami County Clerk Tawna Leffel-Sands said she hopes the flexibility in voting locations will draw more people to the polls, especially during the early voting period.

“I think this will get more people out,” she said. “If they see it’s more convenient and there’s more time to vote, there will be more people.”

One thing is for sure. The move is already paying off financially.

Wilson said the number of poll workers has been reduced from around 170 to just 47 by doing away with more than 20 voting locations. He said that should save the county around $40,000 over the next four years.

Although the turnout for early voting has been down this year, Wilson said it allowed the county to test the new vote centers without getting overwhelmed.

And for residents who did show up for early voting, he said they seemed to have a good experience with vote centers.

“I have heard no complaints,” Wilson said. “When we put a vote sticker on people after leaving the poll places, they usually leave here smiling.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.