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Rokita endorses ‘vote center’ idea

In today’s economic climate, no stone is left unturned when it comes to finding avenues to saving money.
Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita believes he’s found a voting method that could save counties money during election years.
‘Vote centers save taxpayers money, period,’ Rokita, in a release, said. ‘We have years of actual data and now a solid projection for each county to show how much could be saved by adopting vote centers.’
A vote center is an alternative to traditional precinct-based elections. If the General Assembly gave local officials the option of vote centers, and the county, in turn, adopts the centers, local election officials would replace traditional precincts with multiple centers strategically placed in various locations throughout the county.
The main difference be-tween precinct voting is that voters could visit any vote center and receive the correct ballot on election day.
Rokita said vote centers would make elections more accessible to everyone since any voter can cast their ballot at any vote center location. There is no ‘wrong precinct’ for a person to vote in, he said, and a voter can choose to cast their ballot at a center near work or home.
The use of a centralized electronic poll book ensures election security by preventing double voting, Rokita said.
Harrison County Circuit Court Clerk Sherry Brown said the courthouse would have to be electronically connected to each of the centers and each would have to be connected to one another so that, in ‘real time,’ each location could know that an individual had cast his/her ballot and is not eligible to vote at any other location.
Harrison County would save nearly $18,000 with the implementation of vote centers, according to a study conducted by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.
Vote centers would give local election officials more flexibility, the study said, as the number of locations and level of staffing would be fixed.
It also determined that election administrators could anticipate turnout and modify the number of locations and staffing to suit their needs. It would also significantly reduce the number of voting machines needed, Rokita said.
‘I think, in the long run, Harrison County would save tax dollars on election expenses,’ Brown said. ‘But to acquire the equipment needed for vote centers would be a relatively large expense initially.’
Plus, Harrison County purchased new voting machines in October for nearly $230,000.
‘I think we would probably have some happy and some unhappy voters if we went to vote centers be-cause, for some, it would be much more convenient to vote at whichever center was on their way to work,’ Brown said. ‘Others are spoiled by having a polling location in close proximity to their home.’
Not everyone thinks vote centers would be a good change.
‘There are already three ways for people to vote,’ Scott Fluhr, Harrison County Republican Party chairman, said. ‘They can vote absentee via mail, they can vote early at the clerk’s office at the courthouse and they can vote at their precinct on election day. That’s a lot of flexibility already.’
Fluhr also said he thought people seem to like the familiarity of the precinct system.
‘In the past, when polling locations have been moved, it has caused anger and frustration among voters who are used to going to a given place to vote,’ he said.
Fluhr also said reducing locations to vote would most likely not help improve the long line situation.
(Barbara Black, chair of the Harrison County Democrat party, chose not to comment on the issue.)
Brown said the biggest hurdle for vote centers in Harrison County, if the state ever allowed it to be an option, would be the availability of high-speed Internet countywide.
‘So, right now, it wouldn’t work,’ she said.
The full Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute study conducted on vote centers can be accessed online at www.in.gov/sos/elections/3574.htm.
The Indiana General Assembly is considering measures to expand the pilot program that authorizes the centers in only three counties. The option is included in Senate Bill 241. A new law would be needed to allow vote centers statewide.

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