Lawson promotes voting centers on state tour
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:00 AM
Switching to countywide voting centers could cut down government election costs and make casting a ballot easier for residents, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said Monday while visiting Jefferson County.
Speaking at Ivy Tech Community College, Lawson made her fourth stop of 13 across the state to discuss the benefits of switching to voting centers, a program the state began allowing in 2011. So far, seven counties - including Switzerland County - have made the switch and another two are planned to implement the system in the next election year of 2014.
Voting centers eliminate the need for several voting precincts because they allow voters to cast a ballot at any of the county's polling locations - regardless of what precinct they live in - on Election Day and during early voting, Lawson said. The law allows counties to have as few as one voting center for every 10,000 registered voters, but more could be established.
"The good news is that there is no wrong place to vote," Lawson told an audience of about 20 mostly made up of clerk's office workers from surrounding counties.
Lawson has served as secretary of state for one year. Before that, she served in the Indiana Senate for 16 years and eight years as the clerk of Hendricks County Circuit Court.
"I assure you that as your secretary of state, I'm a proponent of voting centers," she said.
The Vote Center Pilot Program started in 2007, focusing on Wayne, Tippecanoe and Cass counties - large, medium and small counties. Following the program, the General Assembly made voting centers an option for all Indiana counties in 2011.
The decision to move to voting centers lies with county officials and the county election board, though all plans must be approved by the Indiana Election Division before the implementation phase.
Counties can review current voting centers at www.in.gov/sos/elections/3574.htm.
Lawson said the voting-center model reduces costs in the long-term because it allows counties to have fewer poll workers and potentially fewer voting machines. It also helps counties that have a low number of registered voters per precinct, she added.
The plan does include implementation costs, but "over the long run, we're finding that it does save counties money," she said.
Before a county considers the switch, Lawson advised that officials heavily review technology requirements, required electronic poll books and location. Location being the key component of the three, Lawson said, adding that counties should involve public feedback.
"I visited every one of our voting center counties," she said. "I've seen them in banks. I've seen them in malls."
"We know that this is about the voters, and we want to bring them into the discussion," she added.
During the meeting, Wayne County Clerk Jo Ann Stewart answered questions from the audience regarding her county's switch to voting centers.
Stewart said the biggest hurdle was informing the public about the changes. To help the transition, the clerk's office sent out fliers and mailers to notify voters and worked with local media to spread the word.
Switzerland County switched to the voting-center format in 2012 for the May primary and General Election. Last year, the county operated six mobile voting centers for early voting - it has 12 precincts - and then just one voting center on Election Day.
The Switzerland County clerk's office estimated that the implementation saved the county thousands of dollars in poll worker payments and meals. The county pays $100 a day for poll workers.
Clerk Karen Mannix said Jefferson County could operate as few as three voting centers, but added that the county election board is still exploring all options.
Jefferson County has about 22,000 registered voters spread over 26 precincts.
Mannix said the election board has asked to conduct a financial study about the possible switch and plans to meet with the public before submitting a proposal.
"As far as our county, we are in the infantile stages," Mannix said.