GREENFIELD — Voters can start casting ballots for the May 6 primary election as early as Tuesday, and with vote centers a brand new concept to Hancock County this year, local officials are hoping to spread the word about where and when to vote.
Vote centers are community buildings throughout the county that replace traditional neighborhood-based polling sites. People may cast a ballot at any vote center, regardless of where they live. Some vote centers will be open prior to Election Day for early voting, and all 12 will be open on Election Day.
Starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday and continuing through the next four weeks, people may cast an early ballot at the Hancock County Courthouse. On April 26, several more sites will open.
Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore said at first, early voting will have a similar feel as in years past, because the courthouse will be the only place to cast a ballot for three weeks. The difference is, people will sign an electronic poll book to show they are voting.
“The setup of the absentee (early) voting is very seamless to the voter,” she said. “The voter will come in, sign the electronic poll book instead of signing the paper one.”
Moore said signing an e-poll book is like signing an electronic signature pad at the grocery store: It records the voter’s signature, and election workers are able to verify the person is casting a ballot. The voter will still show a piece of identification, like a driver’s license. A paper ballot based on the voter’s precinct including district-specific races or bond issues will be printed, and the voter will fill out the ballot by hand.
The courthouse is the first place people can vote early, which is no different than years past to accommodate busy schedules or people who simply want to avoid casting a ballot on Election Day.
Still, vote centers, which took more than a year of planning, will change the way people vote.
Traditional neighborhood precinct sites were eliminated and replaced with 12 churches, businesses or community rooms as vote centers. Sites that will open later this month will offer special weekday and weekend hours.
Formerly, a voter could vote early only at the courthouse or on Election Day at their precinct site. Now, it doesn’t matter where they live, Moore said. A McCordsville resident, for example, can cast a ballot at McCordsville Town Hall early or on Election Day; a rural resident commuting to Indianapolis via U.S. 52 can stop by Brookville Road Community Church to cast a ballot.
Moore says she hopes people become comfortable with the idea that they can vote anywhere. Vote centers were designed to bring more convenience to the public, she said, while streamlining staffing and equipment for the election office.
Sites offering early voting besides the courthouse are McCordsville Town Hall, Brookville Road Community Church, Brown’s Chapel Wesleyan Church, Vineyard Community Church and the Hancock County Public Library.
McCordsville Clerk-Treasurer Cathy Gardner said the community room at town hall will be transformed into a vote center, and it will be more convenient for Vernon and Buck Creek Township residents who want to cast ballots early. After all, early voting previously required a trip to Greenfield, which was inconvenient for many people.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Gardner said. “The hours are from 8 to 4 on a few days and 8 to 3 on other days. And there’s Saturday hours, so people are going to be able to pretty much come any time and not have to work around leaving the office early.”
The Hancock County Public Library is the only site offering Sunday hours on May 4, but also has early voting hours May 1-3.
Director Dave Gray said it made sense for the library to become a vote center because it was open anyway, and there’s plenty of parking.
Voting will be in the Greenfield Banking Co. Community Room, and the library has had to steer programs to other rooms to accommodate tables, voting booths and equipment. Gray said since there’s already plenty of foot traffic at the library, it’s logical for it to be a site for elections.
Informational cards were mailed last fall to voters, explaining the times and locations of vote centers. Moore said she’s also posting signs in public buildings and using websites and the media to spread the word this spring. She might send out more postcards before the fall election.
“I really don’t think it’s going to be a huge transition for the voter,” she added.