Local elected officials and residents met in a committee for the first time Monday to study the impact of switching to county-wide voting centers.

The meeting was called by the Jefferson County Elections Board members - County Clerk Karen Mannix, Josh Hershberger and Merritt Alcorn - to begin reviewing a possible change.

Unlike the traditional assigned voting precincts, residents can vote at any voting center regardless of where they live in the county. There are 26 precincts in Jefferson County.

In the coming months, the committee will review the locations of the polling centers, hours of operation, number of poll workers, as well as the cost savings and cost of new equipment to support a switch.

The Vote Center Pilot Program started in 2007, focusing on Wayne, Tippecanoe and Cass counties - large, medium and small counties. Following the program, the Indiana General Assembly made voting centers an option for all 92 counties in 2011.

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson is a proponent of vote centers, having visited Madison earlier this year to encourage the change. Lawson has said the centers would reduce poll worker costs and make voting easier for residents.

Indiana allows counties to have as few as one vote center for every 10,000 registered voters. With more than 22,000 registered voters, Jefferson County would need three centers.

Mannix said the plan is to form a study committee and then hold public forums before any possible switchover. She said the idea is to get out in front of what she believes could become a state mandate.

"In our eyes, it's inevitable that the State of Indiana will go to vote centers," Mannix said, adding that Jefferson County can have more control in the process if it develops and implements its own plan.

If the plan is pursued and approved, the earliest switch would come during the May 2015 primary. The County Council and Board of Commissioners would first need to approve the plans while the state would give final authorization.

Current county vote center plans can be viewed at the Indiana Secretary of State website: www.in.gov/sos/elections/3574.htm.

The Elections Board previously has discussed developing two stationary voting centers and one traveling voting center that would dock in Hanover on Election Day. The stationary voting centers would be placed downtown and on the hilltop, while the third would visit the local municipalities during Indiana's early voting.

The cost savings would come from having fewer poll workers, Mannix said, and using fewer machines at the sites. The county has 98 voting machines and uses all but two of those during elections, she said. It also operates 23 different polling sites, all of which have five poll workers.

Mannix estimated that the county would need about 25 fewer machines at the vote center sites and several fewer poll workers. Some counties operate vote center sites with seven or nine workers, she said.

There would be an initial investment in the purchasing electronic polling books, which synch polling machines together simultaneously to prohibit voter fraud or resident's casting ballots twice.

"The first run we wouldn't see the savings, but we certainly would the second and third and so on," Mannix said.

If the study committee moves forward with the plan and it is approved by the county, a plan would need to be submitted to the state two months before the next election. Mannix said she plans to hold another committee meeting after the May primary.