GOSHEN — Elkhart County residents planning to vote in the next local election may find several big changes in the way they cast their ballots, but a series of public meetings is aimed at easing that transition.
The Elkhart County Board of Elections held the first of five public meetings designed to explain new vote centers in Elkhart County on Monday evening, Jan. 13, at the Elkhart County Administration Building. The meeting drew a crowd of about 20 community members.
Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson laid out the concept and benefits of vote centers, which may be in place as early as the 2014 primary election.
One major change the vote centers bring is where voters are able to cast their ballots. The current system requires Elkhart County residents to vote at the precinct corresponding to their address. With the new centers in place, voters will be able to cast their ballots at any of the 24 planned locations in Elkhart County.
“We have done our best to make sure that no voter has to drive more than five miles to get to a vote center,” Hudson said.
Anticipating the question of costs related to the new system, Hudson said that equipment for the current system already needs to be replaced.
“Do we want to purchase new equipment for 24 centers or for 117 precincts?” Hudson asked.
In the new system, absentee voters will have the option to mail in their ballot or have a poll worker sent to their home to help them cast their vote. Absentee ballots will then be counted centrally instead of at individual precincts, as they have been in the current voting system.
Another change vote centers will bring is the shift from paper books which residents must sign before voting to electronic poll books, which will make an immediate record of voting across the 24 vote centers. This will prevent a single voter from casting a ballot at more than one location.
According to Hudson, the shift will also save the county about $120,000 in a four-year election cycle by eliminating the cost of unused paper ballots.
During the Q&A session, Elkhart County resident Tom Butler questioned the security of digital voting machines, and suggested that an expert be brought in to test their integrity.
Hudson explained that the county is required by law to publically test the machines, and that recent testings were successful.
Sharon Harder, a member of the Elkhart County Vote Center Study Committee, is looking forward to the upcoming changes.
“I think it’s gonna make the process a lot more efficient,” she said.
If all goes according to plan, Elkhart County will join a host of other counties in Indiana that have either adopted the plan or have filed to do so, including Wayne, Tippecanoe, Cass, Vanderburgh, Fayette, Blackford, Johnson, Switzerland, Floyd, Hancock, Miami, Noble and Vigo counties.
The Elkhart County Election Board decided at an earlier meeting on Monday to hold off on choosing a vendor for electronic poll books that will be used at vote centers. The board has reviewed bids from four companies ranging from $170,000 to $190,000. The vendors are in the process of becoming certified for elections by the state.
There are four more meetings planned, all beginning at 6 p.m.:
Jan. 14: West Park Pavilion, 500 N. Nappanee St., Nappanee
Jan. 21: Middlebury Town Hall, 418 N. Main St., Middlebury
Jan. 27: Elkhart City Council Chambers, 229 S. Second St., Elkhart
Jan. 28: Elkhart County Public Service Building, 4230 Elkhart Road, Goshen