County considers vote centers

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

In the next round of elections, voters may no longer be tied to their own precinct to vote on Election Day.

Dubois County is looking at making each polling place a vote center, at which a voter could use any open polling place to cast a ballot.

County Clerk Amy Kippenbrock presented the vote center idea to the Dubois County Election Board on Friday and shared similar information with the Huntingburg Common Council Tuesday evening.

“I think it’s a win-win for our voters,” she said. “I think it would make our elections even better.”

Dubois County is a a precinct-specific county, Kippenbrock said. “So on Election Day, a registered voter must go to their precinct-specific voting location,” she said. “If it were a vote center county, any voter could go to any polling location.” That would be available on primary and general election days.

Kippenbrock believes that utilizing vote centers would make voting more convenient for voters and increase voter turnout.

While Dubois County has a great early voting turnout, “some people just believe that you’re supposed to vote on Election Day,” Kippenbrock said.

Vote centers would be especially helpful to people who work in another community and must hurry back to their own community to vote at the one precinct at which they are allowed to vote. That can be a challenge for some, Kippenbrock said.

“What if something comes up in the middle of the day and they can’t make it to their one polling location because they have to make it to the other side of the county?” she asked. “It’s an inconvenience.”

In the case of Huntingburg, for example, voters who work in Huntingburg but live elsewhere would be able to cast their ballot at the vote center in Huntingburg. Also, Huntingburg residents who work in another part of the county could vote at the vote center nearest to their job.

“That’s the ultimate drive,” Kippenbrock said, “is the voter’s convenience and what works for them, and driving that turnout to be higher.”

In municipal elections, a Huntingburg resident could use a vote center in another community to cast her or his Huntingburg ballot, Kippenbrock said.

The only con to the vote center idea is that the fee the county charges to run municipal elections, which happen once every four years, would increase some, Kippenbrock said. Currently, municipalities are billed for 75% of the cost of running their election. State statute stipulates that 100% of its election cost is to be covered by the municipality with vote centers, she explained. In the November 2019 election, the last General Election for municipal seats, Huntingburg’s invoice from the county was $3,971, 75% of the total cost. If the county was a vote center county, that invoice would have been about $700 more, she said.

So far, 46 counties have moved to vote centers, and many said that their voter turnout has increased, Kippenbrock said.

“There are lots of other counties that we can learn from” she said, “their successes and their shortfalls.”

Kippenbrock suggested to the election board that the county keepsthe same number of voting locations it has, which is 10. To become a vote center county, a study committee has to be formed and tasked with evaluating the current locations.

“They will have the discussions on the 10 voting locations,” Kippenbrock said, “and whether those all should be kept or if there should be less, by two or three.” Kippenbrock said she has a lot of data that supports why the county should keep all 10 locations.

The committee would have to consider the ramifications if the number of polling locations are decreased and how that would affect the other locations.

“If we close one, will one other become more popular,” Kippenbrock said, “and could it drive more voters to that location? So we’re mindful of the amount of equipment we’re moving around and what the needs would be at any one given location.”

The committee will include representatives from different areas, such as municipalities, county officials, political party chairs, election board members and pollworkers. “We have several people from different avenues that have different input to give to the subject,” she said. The committee would have a few meetings over the next three to six months, and some members may make polling site visits.

“This study group will have to evaluate the current locations, discuss why they do or don’t work, and then present a plan to the election board,” Kippenbrock said.

She asked the council to send a representative for the committee, which council members said that they would.




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