GREENFIELD — Marcia Moore wasn’t going to address the crowd.
The Hancock County clerk didn’t plan to give a formal speech to residents gathered during a special meeting Tuesday to address problems, including long lines and equipment failures, that plagued May’s election — which left the county without results until 24 hours after polls closed.
The Hancock County Election Board called the meeting to give the county’s election software company the opportunity to come before the board to discuss what changes it’s making to prevent such problems in the future. Residents were also invited and given the chance to address the election board, which answered questions as they popped up but didn’t plan to make a formal presentation to the crowd.
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But after voters and candidates who attended the public meeting complained for nearly 30 minutes about long lines, unprepared staff and a faulty voting system, Moore spoke up.
She told residents if they’re unhappy with Hancock County’s voting system, to get involved: volunteer to be a poll worker or vote early.
Before the primary election problems were discussed Tuesday night, the election board voted to open additional vote centers in McCordsville and New Palestine — increasing the polling sites from 12 to 14 — for November’s election in hopes of minimizing voter wait time. The county will also work to bolster its army of poll workers.
Election Systems & Software, the company that provides Hancock County with its election software, is also making a number of changes ahead of November’s Election Day, the company’s vice president of election operations Kevin Kerrigan told the crowd.
The company is adding to its workforce to reduce staff member workload, increasing training on the company’s systems and instructing staff members to make sure ballots are correct before they are uploaded to the system, he said.
“We know we have room for improvement,” Kerrigan said.
Hancock County’s election system isn’t perfect, Moore said, and switching to vote centers hasn’t been free of problems.
But switching to vote centers — which allows voters to cast ballots at any precinct, where ballots for their races are printed on demand — in 2013 was the right move for Hancock County. Vote centers are convenient and efficient, Moore said, especially when voters cast ballots ahead of Election Day.
Hancock County’s primary election last May was plagued by issues that started early on Election Day. For nearly four hours that day, about 340 voters cast incomplete ballots before anyone noticed the county commissioner races were left off the ticket.
The error that resulted in the commissioner races being left off some ballots originated in Hancock County’s election office months before the election, when staffers provided an incomplete ballot to the county’s equipment vendor. Staff corrected the problem and sent updated information to Election Systems & Software before May 3, but the incorrect ballot was still uploaded at the NineStar Connect vote center on Election Day.
The incomplete ballots were among a number of technical issues that sent poll workers scrambling. A routine software update — used to update information about voters who have already cast ballots — failed to load early that morning, causing delays.
The problems resulted in election results being delayed for a number of local races. Before officials released final totals, a special team had to comb through hundreds of ballots the day after the election.
Some people who attended Tuesday didn’t leave the meeting feeling confident the changes touted Tuesday would ensure problems don’t crop up in November. One resident booed the election board as members adjourned the meeting.
Don Bedwell, who lives on the county’s west side, called for the election board to end its contract with Election Systems & Software, saying he’s not convinced they won’t “screw up again.”
“The first thing you guys ought to do is fire these guys,” he said, pointing to the software team. “I’m a remodeling contractor. If I remodeled your bathroom and did as bad as they did, you sure won’t hire me to do your kitchen.”
Other residents asked the election board to do more to ensure November’s election runs smoothly.
Janet Smith, a Buck Creek Township precinct committee woman, told the election board opening vote centers in New Palestine and McCordsville won’t meet Buck Creek Township’s voter’s needs. She asked the board to consider reinstating the vote center at Buck Creek Township Fire Department.
Vineyard Community Church on North County Road 600W is the only vote center established in Buck Creek Township, and it was slammed with voters on Election Day, Smith said.
“Vineyard Church is not sufficient for us,” she said. “Our lines went down the length of the parking lot. … It’s going to be a big one again in November.”
And driving to New Palestine or McCordsville isn’t convenient for Buck Creek Township voters, she said.
Many residents who spoke Tuesday night complained about the long lines at vote centers.
Bedwell’s son and wife chose not to vote after they were told the wait at one vote center was two hours.
And Susan Lockwood, a New Palestine resident, expressed concern about voters losing faith in the process if changes to the system aren’t made.
But election officials had one message for those upset about long lines: vote early. Early voting begins 28 days before the election and gives residents the chance to skip long lines on Election Day.
Officials expected longer lines and busier vote centers during this year’s presidential election. Across the state, voter turnout spiked when compared to years when voters weren’t picking a president.
“You don’t have to go vote early, but you might need to be prepared to stand in line on Election Day,” Moore said.