Earlier this month, a proposal that would have created vote centers throughout Madison County failed to pass the County Election Board. With that, our community lost the opportunity to provide more ways for its citizens to vote.
Two years ago, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation giving all counties the option of using vote centers instead of precinct voting. As of this year, 10 counties have filed their intent to use vote centers with the Indiana Election Division. Many of these counties have recognized the benefits vote centers bring to the election process, which, in many ways, hasn’t been updated to meet modern standards.
The fact of the matter is we now live in a convenience-driven society. The reasons many people have for not voting often boil down to “I don’t have time” or “My polling place is out of my way.” But what if instead of expecting constituents to adapt to these circumstances, we modified the election experience to meet their needs?
Our current precinct voting system requires each person to vote at one particular location, which often leads to confusion if a person goes to the wrong polling place. By allowing a voter to go to any location they choose, vote centers provide more options and reduce the stress of organizing voters.
Putting vote centers in accessible locations, like where people work and shop, would reduce wait times and increase turnout. In fact, a Rice University study found that multiple states that implemented vote centers experienced up to a 10 percent increase in voter turnout. Higher voter turnout is better for our communities, state and nation as a whole.
Beyond convenience, vote centers provide a variety of financial benefits. According to a 2010 study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute (IFPI), counties that implement vote centers could reduce their Election Day expenses by at least 30 percent. In 74 of our state’s 92 counties, those savings could be as much as 50 percent of current expenses. Madison County alone could save as much as $64,513.
Vote centers could greatly minimize a county’s cost per vote by helping election administrators anticipate turnout and modify the number of locations and staffers accordingly. With precinct voting, the number of polling locations and staffers is fixed, unless a county official takes action to change it. This means many counties have underutilized locations that keep costs high and misuse resources. But the IFPI study estimated that Madison County could lower its cost per vote by 41 percent if it switched to more efficient vote centers.
I understand some people are concerned that vote centers would increase the potential for voter fraud. After all, if a person can vote in any vote center, what would stop them from going to multiple polling places to vote more than once?
However, the General Assembly required county election boards to prove they have electronic safeguards in place to prevent this type of fraud before they are allowed to create vote centers. These systems notify other polling places that a person has already voted at a different location, preserving the integrity of our election process and ensuring each person gets only one vote.
The Madison County Election Board should take another look at the vote centers issue and consider how much our community could benefit from these new resources. With voter turnout at a low rate nationwide, we must do all we can to encourage our citizens to participate in the election process by making it as convenient for them as possible.
Doug Eckerty, a Republican, represents a portion of Madison County in Indiana Senate District 26.