Noble County will the first county in northeast Indiana to offer voters the convenience of casting a ballot from anywhere in the county, no matter what precinct they are in.
There will be eight vote centers throughout the county where registered voters from the 29 precincts can vote, county Clerk Shelley Mawhorter said.
Two vote centers will be placed in Kendallville and one each in Rome City, Ligonier, Cromwell, Merriam, Avilla and Albion, she said.
The farthest someone would have to drive to vote is 8.4 miles, she said.
A vote center is a polling place where any eligible voter in the county can go to vote. Vote centers are connected through secure Internet connections, and as ballots are cast, an electronic poll book is updated.
State legislators approved the concept in 2011 after vote centers were piloted successfully in three Indiana counties. Based on the convenience, the centers are designed to increase voter turnout and could save counties money because there are fewer polling stations to staff with workers and equipment.
After a two-year study, Allen County election officials have decided not to implement vote centers, questioning whether savings would be realized. The county has, however, made several changes regarding precinct locations.
Noble County is the first in northeast Indiana to switch to voting centers, according to a spokesperson for the office of Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson.
I believe voters will appreciate the new voting centers because of the convenience of casting a ballot from any polling location in the county, Lawson said in a statement last month.
The electronic tablets that will be used at Noble County’s vote centers are capable of scanning ID cards and instantly downloading voter and precinct information, Mawhorter said.
On average, someone can sign in to an e-poll book every 28 seconds, Mawhorter said.
All information goes into an online queue, where it is stored in the event of a power or Internet failure, she said.
Studies have shown that vote centers, as opposed to traditional precinct-based voting systems, can save some money in some cases.
Mawhorter said the new system would save Noble County about $9,600 this year. There will be fewer poll workers – and fewer meals for those workers – and couriers for early and absentee ballots will be eliminated, she said.
The vote centers will have more voting machines at each center, with eight at each Kendallville location, but the county did not have to buy more, Mawhorter said.
We already had machines on hand, she said.
There is a significant cost to buy digital poll books, which are crucial to vote centers, Mawhorter said.
She hopes to buy 15 of the tablets, which cost about $1,600 to $1,800 each, she said.
The county will continue to offer early voting in various communities throughout two weeks before an election.
The Noble County Courthouse will be a satellite voting center where any registered voter can cast an absentee or early ballot up to 28 days before an election, Mawhorter said.
Voting locations will be posted at nobleco.squarespace.com/clerk/ in the next 30 days, Mawhorter said.
Based on a nearly two-year study, Election Board officials decided voting centers are not the way to go in Allen County.
But the county has reorganized and consolidated voting locations. As a result, voters in 161 precincts – about 47 percent – will have a new voting location for this year’s elections.
We started studying this in 2012 and really expected to find that voting centers would be the way to go, said Beth Dlug, director of elections.
But we ran into obstacles and could not find a significant savings, she said.
With the new reorganization, all registered voters will be assigned to a voting location, but several precincts will be combined into one location.
We were already pretty efficient; this just makes us more so, Dlug said.
The county will retire 33 voting locations and add 18 for a total of 113 locations for next year’s elections, she said.
Dlug said she is not sure whether the new plan will save or cost money. It’s not about the money – it’s about making it more convenient for voters, she said.
Allen County has about 275,000 registered voters, she said.
Some of those voters were driving past a voting location in their own neighborhood because they were assigned to another one farther away, Dlug said.
The reorganization should be much more efficient for all voters, she said.
We are currently planning for a 25 percent turnout in the primary and 45 percent for the general but will be keeping an eye on the ballot, Dlug said. The ballot drives the turnout.
This year’s ballot will include mostly county offices as well as all state representatives and senators, she said.
So that there is no confusion, the county will embark on a massive information campaign.
We’ve got a lot of outreach and also plan to use social media to spread the word, Dlug said.
Voting location information will be distributed to schools, real estate and apartment associations, neighborhood associations, churches and through CitiLink.
In addition, we will be sending postcards to registered voters, Dlug said.