ELKHART — Elkhart County residents can expect several changes in the way they cast their votes from now on, starting with the May 6 primary elections.
It will be the first election in the county to implement vote centers, a newer model of polling that's being used or is in the works in 17 other counties in the state, according to Indiana's official vote center website.
So what can voters expect on election day?
Fewer locations, more flexibility
Instead of designated voting locations in each precinct, there will be 25 vote centers that can be used by any Elkhart County resident regardless of where they live.
There will be 10 vote centers in Elkhart, seven in Goshen, two in Bristol, and one each in Dunlap, New Paris, Millersburg, Middlebury, Nappanee and Wakarusa. (See addresses and map below)
The election board has started sending out postcards to registered voters alerting them of the vote center locations.
Electronic poll books
Voters will now be checked into their chosen vote center with electronic poll books instead of paper poll books.
Once a voter is checked in, that information is updated at all vote centers. This prevents people from voting more than once. Poll books are not connected to the electronic voting equipment, so votes remain confidential, according to an informational video from the state of Indiana.
A device called a VC coder will create the appropriate ballot for each voter's registered precinct.
"We have over 600 separate ballots in this election, and the correct ballot needs to be available for every voter at every center," said Wendy Hudson, Elkhart County clerk.
All electronic poll books will be connected to a central server, allowing for real-time election updates.
It may take voters longer than usual to cast their ballots, at least for now.
There's anticipation that some centers will have longer lines than others, and it may take voters longer to cast their ballots using touchscreen equipment, Hudson said.
There will be 10 touch-screen voting machines at each center.
“Since this is our first time administering elections using the vote center model, we will be watching closely to see the successes and any failures,” Hudson said.
The election board will have the option to reconsider vote center locations and logistics after the primaries.
Carol McDowell, a current precinct committeeman and former vice-chairman in the Elkhart County Republican party, is concerned that there aren’t enough vote centers on the northeast side of Elkhart to adequately serve some of the area’s older residents.
“Right in that neighborhood there are three retirement homes, so they're people that would have a hard time getting to a voting place, and my fear is that these voters have basically been disenfranchised by the election board,” McDowell said.
But Chris Anderson, chief deputy clerk, is confident about the board's decisions on where to place vote centers.
“We spent two years picking out locations,” he said.
Anderson also noted that more than 90 percent of voters are located within five miles of a vote center, and that most nursing homes will be visited by a travel board responsible for bringing ballots to people who can’t make it to the polls.
Others have voiced concern about the security of vote center technology. Hudson said concerned residents should know that Elkhart County isn’t the first county in the state to use vote centers and electronic poll books.
“They should also know that all electronic poll books are required to pass certification by the state of Indiana, through the secretary of state’s certification process and requirements,” she said.
The full vote center plan is available at www.elkhartcountyclerk.com. For more information about vote centers, visit www.votecenters.in.gov.
ELKHART COUNTY VOTE CENTER LOCATIONS
- Trinity United Methodist Church, 2715 E. Jackson St.
- Omega Center and Abundant Life Ministries, 2130 Middlebury St. (on orange trolley route)
- St. James AME Church, 122 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive (on green, red and orange trolley routes)
- River of Life Community Church, 2626 Prairie St. (on green and orange trolley routes)
- Calvary Assembly of God, 1010 E. Mishawaka Road (on orange trolley route)
- Calvary United Methodist Church, 2222 W. Indiana Ave. (on green trolley route)
- New Hope United Methodist Church, 28765 C.R. 4
- Tolson Center, 1320 Benham Ave. (on red trolley route)
- North Side Gym, 300 Lawrence St. (on blue trolley route)
- Jimtown High School Gym, 59021 C.R. 3
- Grace Community Church, 20076 C.R. 36
- Faith United Methodist Church, 22045 C.R. 18 (on orange trolley route)
- Maple City Chapel, 2015 Lincolnway East (on red trolley route)
- Salvation Army, 1013 N. Main St.
- Trinity Lutheran Church, 202 S. Greene Road
- Greencroft Senior Center, 1721 Greencroft Blvd. (on red trolley route)
- Pleasant View Mennonite Church, 58529 C.R. 23
- Bristol United Methodist Church, 201 S. Division St.First Baptist Church, 53953 C.R. 17
- Elkhart County Public Services Building, 4230 Elkhart Road (on red trolley route)
- New Paris Missionary Church, 67621 S.R. 15
- Millersburg Fire Station, 500 Carriage Lane
- Middlebury Town Hall, 418 N. Main St.
- Nappanee First Brethren Church, 1600 N. Main St.
- Bible Baptist Church, 205 E. Waterford St.