STARKE COUNTY — The first Vote Center Town Hall was held at the Washington Township Community Building. Around 25 people attended the event, held by the Starke County Election Board. Currently, Starke County voters may only vote in the precinct they live in. If the county were to change to vote centers, that would allow residents to vote at any of the vote centers in the county. For example, someone that works in North Judson, but lives in Hamlet could vote either in Hamlet, North Judson, or Knox.
“The voter can vote at any vote center,” stated Election Board member Marcia Bedrock.
Bedrock went on to state that the proposed plan would reduce the number of polling places in the county from 21 to 7 vote centers. While she couldn’t list the vote centers, the locations haven’t been finalized, she did mention that the locations are current polling places.
Someone in the audience asked about the cost decrease for this reduction in locations. Bedrock answered that the first year wouldn’t see much of a change due to the fact that ePoll books would have to be purchased. However, the following election cycles would see a $20,000 too $30,000.
ePoll books are devices that check-in voters by scanning their ID. The cost of the ePoll books are estimated at $41,000. County Clerk Bernadette Welter-Manuel stated that the payment can be broken up in two equal payments over a two-year period. The use of ePoll books will also reduce the amount of time it takes to check-in. According to Welter-Manuel, it would take count 30 to 45 seconds on average compared to the normal method which can take up to two minutes.
Where the county would save money comes from the staffing of election workers. Currently, the county has 146 workers at 21 polling places. It would take about 56 workers to staff 7 vote centers.
Bedrock stated that the only negative impact vote centers would have is that voters may need to drive a little farther.
A citizen asked about how it would service the residents of the county by reducing the precincts by two-thirds.
“Like, Koontz Lake for example, has three. There would just be one,” County Councilman Brad Hazelton said. “You still come to the same place to vote, or you could go somewhere else.”
Another citizen asked if this proposal to switch the county to vote centers was already decided.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s decided. They’re exploring what the options are,” County Commissioner Kathy Norem said. “If there was a groundswell of people against it, then we’d probably rethink that a little bit. But to be honest with you, there’s about 1,200 voters in Washington Township and I see maybe 25 people here.”
The next steps for this plan are as follows: a plan to switch to vote centers must be created and approved by the Election Board by an unanimous vote. Then it goes to the County Commissioners for approval. If it passes, then it moves onto the County Council for their approval. If it passes, then it goes to the Indiana Election Division for their final approval. Should all of those things occur, then the county can switch to vote centers.
There will be more town hall meetings scheduled for Oct. 9 at the Knox Community Center, and then again on Oct. 10 at the North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library. Both start at 6:30 p.m.