By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Madison County residents on Wednesday will have their first opportunity to comment on a proposal to create regional vote centers and eliminate precinct polling sites.
The Madison County Election Board will conduct the first of two scheduled public hearings on the proposal at the Anderson City Auditorium, beginning at 7 p.m. A second public hearing will be held at Elwood City Hall on Oct. 2. That hearing will also begin at 7 p.m.
"I'm really curious to see what kind of turnout we're going to get," said Madison County Clerk Darlene Likens
A bipartisan work group of citizens, and elected and political party officials have been working since early June on a plan to implement vote centers for the 2014 election cycle.
Vote centers are a growing trend in Indiana and around the country because they can increase public engagement in the political process and may lower the cost of managing elections.
Currently, voters are assigned to cast their ballots in specific precincts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day.
Although early voting has been conducted at the Madison County Government Center the past several elections, and absentee voting exists, the reality is that many people find it difficult to vote given modern work and children's schedules.
Using modern Internet technology and electronic poll books that can be instantly updated, registered voters would be able to cast their ballots at any center on Election Day, or even before, through early voting.
Under the plan developed by county officials, early voting at designated satellite centers would begin 17 days before, and conclude the Sunday before Election Day. These centers would be located in Anderson, Elwood and Pendleton. In addition, roving vote centers would be opened in nine Madison County communities.
On Election Day, 25 vote centers would be open around the county, and include such locations as grocery stores, Mounds Mall, community centers, churches and town halls, according to the proposal.
Former County Commissioner Paul Wilson, who has worked extensively on the vote center proposal, called it "the most expansive change in the voters' opportunity to vote in 150 years in Madison County." Wilson is the Democratic member of the County Election Board.
Although officials hope some cost saving might come from the proposals, their goal all along has been to make voting more convenient.
The Indiana General Assembly passed vote center legislation in 2006 authorizing three counties to test the concept. In 2011, the General Assembly approved a bill allowing all Indiana counties to adopt vote centers.
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If You Go
The Madison County Election Board will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, on its proposed vote center plan for the 2014 elections. Meeting is at City Auditorium, City Hall, 120 E. Eighth St., Anderson.