GOSHEN — The city of Goshen will not be able to use vote centers in this fall’s special referendum election for a new community center.
Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson told local leaders Monday, Feb. 25, that funding to certify new voting equipment has been eliminated from the state’s budget. The county has been eyeing the cost of buying new voting machines and electronic poll books for the transition from precinct-style voting to vote centers, an effort to save money and boost voter turnout. Vote centers would give registered voters more flexibility by allowing them to cast ballots at any designated center instead of being tied to a specific polling site.
“I’m disappointed that we’re not going to be able to move forward as quickly as I had hoped, but we will continue working on moving forward as soon as we can,” Hudson said.
Goshen officials and citizens have been discussing whether to pursue building a $27.6 million community center, but approving that process would require a referendum. Leaders promoting the community center have said that the referendum would give the county a chance to use vote centers for the first time.
Hudson said voting equipment is certified through Ball State University’s political science department using the Voting System Technical Oversight Program, or VSTOP. The program has run out of funding to certify equipment, which assures that new voting machines will be functioning correctly on Election Day.
“Until the VSTOP program can continue, we can’t get anything certified, and we’re stuck with our current equipment,” Hudson said. “We can work with our current equipment. It’s just not designed for vote centers.”
Hudson said the lack of funding for equipment certification is a huge roadblock, but the vote center concept could re-emerge in a couple of years.
“What I’m hearing from the council and commissioners is they think it will be more likely that we could move forward in 2015,” she said. “Because we’re unable to move forward with vote center equipment for a countywide vote, I don’t want to use the vote center concept for a special election this fall. I don’t want the voters to get used to the vote centers for this special election and then take them back to precinct voting next year. I think that would be confusing.”
But for now, “the state has stopped the process,” county commissioner Mike Yoder said. The commissioners will not seek bids on new voting equipment until it is able to be certified, he said.
Hudson and Yoder are not the only ones who were anxious to see how the vote centers worked out.
“I thought it would be a good trial run because it’s not a big election, and it would allow us to work any bugs out that it might have,” said Jim McKee, Goshen City Council president. “I think it’s going to cost quite a bit more now.”
News of the step back from vote centers comes on the heels of the Goshen City Council’s discussion on how to pay for November’s special election.
At this time, the estimated cost of the election is $58,000, which would be split proportionally between the city and Goshen Community Schools, relative to their respective costs of the project.
McKee introduced a resolution at the Feb. 19 council meeting, however, that would request Goshen Community Center Inc. to reimburse the city for the cost of the special election.
The council ultimately decided to postpone any action on the resolution until more details of the special election and its cost became clear.