Committee settles on seven voting centers

By TONY RAAP
Herald Staff Writer

After weeks of discussion, members of a bipartisan study committee have settled on seven vote center locations.

After weeks of discussion, members of a bipartisan study committee have settled on seven vote center locations.

The 12-member study committee, made up of Dubois County commissioners, county council members and Democratic and Republican party officials, is drafting a plan on how the county would make the switch to vote centers in advance of the 2014 election.

If the switch is made, voters could cast ballots at any vote center in the county on Election Day, rather than having to vote at a specific location determined by precinct.

Voters would sign in using electronic poll books but would use the same voting machines as before. The ability to cast early votes would remain essentially unchanged from the 2012 election.

The proposed switch is expected to save the county money in the long run. Vote centers would need fewer poll workers, though those workers likely would have to undergo more rigorous training to operate the electronic poll books effectively.

Where to put the vote centers has been a hot topic since the committee first met in August. Some didn’t want to exclude Birdseye, which has more people than Schnellville but isn’t as strategically positioned.

County Clerk Bridgette Jarboe said the goal is to spread the sites across the county so no one has to drive more than 10 miles to vote. She held up a county map with seven overlapping circles marking where each of the sites would be situated.

In past discussions, Birdseye was “sacred ground for whatever reason,” Jarboe said. But she insisted that it’s more logical to put a vote center in Schnellville because it keeps the sites within a tighter radius.

When she asked committee members if they were OK with the change, most in the room nodded in agreement. Vote centers would be housed in public spaces with ample parking, though the exact locations have yet to be determined.

At past meetings, several committee members had questions about how electronic poll books work. On Thursday, Jared Brady, a representative from Robis Elections, a voting equipment vendor based in Wheaton, Ill., walked them through the process.

The purpose of switching to electronic poll books is to streamline the process of checking in voters. The electronic system also prevents someone from voting at one site, then driving to another location and voting again. In the past, voters have signed in using paper poll books.

With voters registering electronically, their information would be uploaded into a database in real time. Upon arriving at the vote center, voters would hand poll workers their ID, which would be scanned using an electronic bar code scanner. Voters then would be asked to sign in on an electronic signature pad similar to what’s used in department stores for credit card purchases.

The voter’s information would appear on a touchscreen tablet used by poll workers. If someone tried to vote twice, a message would pop up on the screen saying the person has voted already.

Voters would be given a receipt to hand to an election judge, standing next to the voting machines. The receipt would list the time, date and ballot style. On average, it takes less than a minute to check someone in using an electronic poll book, Brady said.

“Bottom line: It’s going to be a simpler process,” he said.

The cost of the electronic poll books is still unknown. Jarboe asked Brady to send her a quote for 12 kits — enough for each vote center plus a few spare units.

After a vote center plan is drafted, the committee will hold at least two town hall meetings to gauge voter interest. If the committee decides to move forward with the plan, it must be approved by the county election board and filed with the state.

Jarboe said the goal is to have a plan in place by early next year in advance of the May primary election. Seven Indiana counties already have switched to vote centers and electronic poll books.

Contact Tony Raap at traap@dcherald.com.




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