The Herald Bulletin

October 4, 2013

Regional votes center proposal doesn't ignite public interest

By Stuart Hirsch The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — Despite two public hearings, Madison County Clerk Darlene Likens says she still doesn’t have a good feel for public sentiment about regional vote centers.

Both hearings — one in mid-September and another Wednesday night in Elwood — weren’t well attended, Likens said on Thursday, and no written comments about the proposal have been submitted to county officials.

“I don’t feel like we can vote on this one way or the other because we’ve not had enough feedback,” Likens said. “I just wish more people had submitted written comments.”

And voters still have that option.

Under rules established by the Secretary of State Election Division, now that public hearings have been held on the proposal, citizens have 30 days in which to submit written comments to officials.

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.

Regional vote centers are growing in popularity here in Indiana and around the country because they can increase public engagement in the political process and can lower the cost of managing elections.

Currently, voters are assigned to cast ballots in specific precincts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Election Day.

But using modern Internet technology and electronic poll books that can be instantly updated, voters could cast their ballots at any center on Election Day, or even before, through early voting.

Under a plan developed by the bipartisan work group, 25 vote centers would be open around Madison County on Election Day, including such locations as grocery stores, shopping centers, community centers, churches and town halls.

In addition, there would be opportunities for early voting at designated satellite centers for 17 days before Election Day, according to the proposal.

These centers would be located in Anderson, Elwood and Pendleton. In addition, roving vote centers would be opened in nine Madison County communities.

For the past several election cycles, early voting has been conducted at the Madison County Government Center, and absentee voting exists in part to make it easier for people to vote.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Ludy Watkins, who replaced former County Commissioner Paul Wilson, a Democrat, on the Madison County Election Board last week, struck a cautious tone about vote centers on Thursday.

“It has to come down to public opinion,” she said. “I want to do what’s best for the people.”

Watkins said she is also concerned about the costs associated with buying the electronic poll books that would be necessary to make vote centers a reality.

“I don’t know how much money will be saved in the long run,” she said. “We would have to put out quite a bit of money initially.”

Although officials hope regional vote centers might lower the cost of administering elections over time, the goal all along has been to make voting more convenient, Likens has maintained.

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What's next Now that the required public hearings have been held on proposed regional vote centers in Madison County, citizens still have 30 days to submit written comments about whether they support or oppose the concept. Letter may be sent to County Clerk Darlene Likens, Madison County Government Center, 16 E. Ninth St., Anderson, IN 46016.