For the past several years before each primary and general election, Howard County Clerk Kim Wilson has ensured voting machines were ready to take ballots by cannibalizing some broken models to keep the others operational.
They’re old. So old, in fact, state certification for the county’s machines was set to expire this year.
Howard County won an extension, but the equipment soon must be replaced.
Wilson and other county officials have been studying the possibility of adopting the vote center concept, which was expanded three years ago by the state Legislature. County leaders have discovered vote centers to be less expensive to operate than traditional polling precincts and more people-friendly for the average voter.
How many to place throughout the county has become a point of contention between the county’s Republican Party chairman, Craig Dunn, and Democratic Party chairman, David Tharp.
Howard County currently has 71 voting precincts within 37 locations. Tharp said Friday he’d prefer somewhere between 22 and 25 vote centers. The Republican-led proposal called for 10 vote centers countywide, with four inside the city of Kokomo.
Cass County residents have cast ballots at vote centers since 2008. The county clerk consolidated 40 precincts into seven vote centers, reducing the number of voting machines and poll workers required to conduct each election.
And voter turnout in Cass County’s 2010 general election suggests vote centers encourage higher participation. Voter turnout in Cass was 51 percent that year; it was 43.9 percent in Howard County.
The Cass County experience suggests a significant reduction won’t adversely affect voter participation. Still, reducing the cost of running elections remains a primary reason for adopting the concept.
Every Indiana county would realize a savings by using vote centers, the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute says. Four years ago, the non-partisan organization estimated Howard County could save $35,000 a year.
We’re confident a compromise can be reached in Howard County. There’s no need for 25 vote centers, but perhaps election officials can agree to locate as many as seven vote centers along Kokomo’s trolley lines and adopt the concept.