GREENFIELD — Four new vote center locations open Saturday for residents to cast early ballots, and local poll workers received a crash course Thursday on what to expect.
For Elizabeth Riley, the changes seem simple enough on the surface, and she hopes everything will run smoothly.
“It’ll be something we’ll just have to experience once,” said Riley, who will be working at Brookville Road Community Church. “At least we’re (rolling it out for the first time) at a primary, not a general election.”
Cautious optimism was the feeling of many of the 60 poll workers who gathered Thursday for a training session on vote centers at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex.
Vote centers are community buildings throughout the county that replace traditional neighborhood-
based polling sites.
Discussed for more than a year locally, Hancock County officials decided in 2013 to switch to the vote center model – one of 16 counties in the state to do so. The May 6 primary marks the first time the new concept will be used, and over the next 10 days, several vote centers will open up to the public.
Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore addressed the crowd about the changes, and Secretary of State Connie Lawson was also on hand briefly, encouraging the workers and congratulating Hancock County on being among the first to switch to the new model.
“The voters absolutely love it,” Lawson said. “It’s got a lot of advantages, and the biggest advantage is, I think, to the voters.”
People have been voting at the Hancock County Courthouse for the past three weeks, but starting Saturday, McCordsville Town Hall, Vineyard Community Church, Brown’s Chapel Wesleyan Church and Brookville Road Community Church will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. the next two Saturdays. Special weekday hours at those locations begin Wednesday (see map).
People may cast a ballot at any vote center, regardless of where they live.
Moore says that’s one of the biggest advantages of vote centers. With the previous model of voting, a person who showed up at the wrong precinct polling location would have to be turned away or could cast a provisional ballot, which might not have counted at the end of Election Day.
With vote centers, poll workers can pull any ballot from any location. It doesn’t matter if a person lives in Greenfield and votes in McCordsville, for example: Their ballot specific to Greenfield and its district races can be printed and used.
Poll workers tested the new electronic poll book and printing equipment Thursday. Riley said she was fairly optimistic vote centers would run more efficiently than traditional precinct-based voting that depended on paper poll books.
“It’ll depend on how many poll books they have at each (vote center) and how quickly the printer works and it doesn’t jam,” she added.
Phyllis Hillis said she was a bit nervous of the change “because I’ve done the old way for about seven years, so (this is) something new.”
“Once I get into it, it’ll be ok,” she added.
Jan Fisher said she feels confident to start working at Brown’s Chapel. Having just examined the electronic poll book that will be used to type in voter’s names and verify identity, Fisher said the technology was simple to use.
“It’s kind of like going to Target and doing the bridal registry or baby registry and putting a name in,” she said.
While several vote centers will open on Saturday, weekday hours will begin next week as well. The Hancock County Public Library opens as a vote center May 1 and has special hours May 3 and May 4; the library is the only location that will be open on a Sunday.
Then, on Election Day, all 12 vote centers throughout the county will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Voters received post cards listing the vote center locations and times last fall, and Moore has been promoting the concept on city and county websites, through local media and with posters in public buildings. There will also be large informational signs posted at each vote center.
Even with the effort to spread the word, Moore said her office has been getting calls from people wanting to know where they can cast a ballot. It’s hard to tell whether there are more phone calls this year than any other year, she added.
“Ever year since I’ve been in office, there are always people who don’t quite remember or know where to vote,” she said. “I think sometimes people don’t pay attention to elections until it’s May.”
As an extra precaution, signs listing vote center locations will be posted at each of the old precinct polling sites May 6 just to make sure people know where to go to vote.
“Are we going have some hiccups, snafus? It’s a first. It’ll happen,” Moore said. “But we have a dedicated team of election workers.”