GREENFIELD — Vote centers are here to stay, county election officials say after seeing overwhelming support in a recent survey. With a few tweaks, they might be more successful in the Nov. 4 general election
The Hancock County Election Board met Monday evening to discuss results of a survey sent to local voters on the county’s new method of voting. Vote centers replaced traditional neighborhood polling sites in May with 12 sites throughout the county.
The change was more than a year in the making, and proponents say since anyone can cast a ballot at a vote center regardless of address, vote centers are more convenient for the public. And while there was a higher cost this year in purchasing new equipment, the county is saving money in personnel.
Now, two months after the rollout of the concept, survey results reveal most people think vote centers are easy to use.
“They’re efficient, they have virtually 100 percent degree of accuracy and in the long run, I think they’ll be less expensive to county elections,” said Tom Cone, a longtime member of the election board. “And it solves our personnel problems. People do not have to commit themselves to a 14-hour day for us to run a vote center. (It had become) difficult to get people to work the polls.”
Of the 5,000 surveys that were mailed to voters, 995 were returned.
More than 90 percent of respondents said new equipment at vote centers was easy to use; vote centers required new printers to produce a precinct-specific ballot when a voter walked through the door. Ninety-six percent said staff was knowledgeable about the process.
Cone said what little criticism there was in the survey, the election board had already heard and planned to address in the fall general election.
Some said printers were too slow, or that more check-in areas were needed. The election board is discussing adding more printers and placing additional check-in sites at popular centers, such as the Hancock County Public Library.
The library was a popular site, with 19 percent of early voters casting ballots there. The only place that had more early voters was the county courthouse, where early voting has been held for years.
Clerk Marcia Moore said the board plans to increase early voting hours at the library and at McCordsville Town Hall. Because Brookville Road Community Church and Brown’s Chapel Wesleyan Church were not popular early-voting sites, those will be open only on Election Day, freeing up equipment for early voting at the more popular sites.
“From the beginning, we said this is going to be baby steps with some teething pain,” Moore said. “That’s true; as long as we can continue to learn from that, we’re good.”
Staff was able to remotely monitor which vote centers were most popular through a computer program. Election administrator Robin Spille said the program was helpful in steering people to less-busy sites when they asked where to vote on Election Day. But adding printers and expanding hours at the more popular sites will also be helpful, she said.
Only three members of the public attended the meeting Monday. John Priore, a tea party activist who has questioned the cost of new equipment and the integrity of voter privacy, is now fairly supportive of the concept.
“We’ve been very conservative here in our introduction of it,” Priore said. “We haven’t gone all electronic; we haven’t gone to touch-screens… The election board is approaching it in a very reasonable fashion.”
It especially makes sense to have expanded hours at the library, Priore added, because many voters liked the convenience of voting when they were running an errand at the library anyway.
“(The election board is) learning, and they’re making changes accordingly,” Priore said. “If they keep it up that way and keep it moving slowly, that’s the best way to go at it.”