GOSHEN — Goshen will be the first city in Elkhart County to test a new voting system next spring.
Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson revealed Saturday that a special election in May will use vote centers for the first time. This will give registered voters more flexibility by allowing them to cast their ballots at any one of three centers set up throughout the city on Election Day, she said.
“This way, they’re not stuck to one location anymore,” she explained.
Using vote centers in May’s election could save Goshen as much as $16,000, Hudson added. If the test goes smoothly, Hudson would like to see vote centers used in countywide elections.
Elkhart County has 81 voting locations. If the county switches to vote centers, there would have to be a minimum of 13 polling places. That’s one center for every 10,000 registered voters. However, Hudson said a committee that studied the use of vote centers in the county suggests providing 17 locations.
“Although we’re reducing the number of places to vote, we are increasing the number of choices for every individual voter,” Hudson said.
Fewer polling locations means fewer poll workers, Hudson said. She noted, however, that they would be paid more because they would need to be tech savvy.
“I think it’s a great direction to move in,” councilman Darryl Riegsecker said.
Hudson said the county’s voting machines are outdated. The equipment is no longer manufactured, she said. New machines for the county’s 81 polling locations could cost roughly $1 million. One quote for new equipment for 17 vote centers is slightly less than $300,000, but Hudson said other bids could come in lower. But those are the only savings, she said.
“The county goes through $122,000 per four-year cycle of paper ballot waste,” she explained. “That would go away. We wouldn’t have any paper ballot waste because when the voter comes in, the machine programs their ballot, so we don’t have to have a stack of ballots preprinted at the locations. We print it for the voter when they come in.”
Hudson said the county plans to hold public meetings and a mock election to show residents how the voting equipment works and how vote centers operate.