GOSHEN — The way Elkhart County voters cast ballots on Election Day could change next year.
If all goes according to plan, voters could be using vote centers instead of traditional polling places by the primary election in 2014. The county is beginning to collect bids for new electronic equipment needed for vote centers, a concept that has been adopted in at least a dozen other areas in Indiana.
WHAT’S A VOTE CENTER?
Vote centers allow registered voters to cast ballots at any polling location in the county regardless of where they live. Precincts are still in place in counties that use vote centers, but voters are not tied to a specific polling site.
Wayne, Tippecanoe and Cass counties were the first to pilot vote centers in 2007. The Indiana House and Senate passed legislation in 2011 giving all counties in the state the option of using vote centers. Since then, nine other counties — Vanderburgh, Fayette, Blackford, Johnson, Switzerland, Floyd, Hancock, Miami and Vigo — have filed plans to transition to vote centers.
Chris Anderson, Elkhart County’s chief deputy clerk, said the county will have public meetings to explain how vote centers work and allow people to test out the new equipment before they hit the polls. Voters will still have options to vote early in the month leading up to elections, he added.
Before Elkhart County chooses a vendor for electronic poll books, Anderson said companies must provide proof that they are going through a certification process with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office. The office is currently working with six vendors, he said.
The county will review lease prices for electronic poll books ranging from a year to five years, Anderson said. If the vendors are certified for elections by January, he said vote centers could be used in Elkhart County in May for the primary election. He added, however, that if vote centers are not ready to be used in the spring, they will not be used in the fall.
“To do that to the voters between primary and general is just way too confusing,” Anderson said.
If the county transitions to vote centers in 2014, people will use touchscreen technology to cast their votes. By 2015, Anderson said the county hopes to use “ballot on demand” software that prints customized ballots for voters, pending the certification of tabulation equipment and legislation that allows clerks at the vote centers — one Republican and one Democrat — to electronically initial ballots.