"Vote Centers" was the topic presented by Jennifer Bentley and Karyn Douglas at Monday's Lunch with the League. Bentley has served as County Clerk since 2005 and been in charge of the past 12 elections. Douglas, hired as Voter Registration Deputy before the general election in 2007, coordinates elections including poll workers and their training, and is currently helping with the county switching to vote centers.

What is a vote center? A vote center is a polling place where any eligible voter in the county may go to vote. It offers more flexibility for voters on Election Day and reduces costs. Voter centers are connected through secure internet connections. As ballots are cast, an electronic poll book is instantaneously updated.

From 2007-2010, the Secretary of State office ran the Vote Center Pilot Program in three counties-Cass, Tippecanoe and Wayne--to determine if Vote Centers could be a viable option for election administration in Indiana. After three years and numerous elections, the pilot program was deemed a success. In 2011, the General Assembly passed and Governor Daniels signed the legislation making vote centers an option for any Indiana county.

There are now nine counties utilizing vote centers and many more counties are planning to adopt the change. A public meeting was held in Montgomery County last August to address questions raised by local citizens. Montgomery County Commissioners and Council have approved the switch to Vote Centers for the 2014 elections.

Douglas stressed that the purpose of Vote Centers is to increase voter convenience and accessibility. This can encourage increased voter turnout which has been low in Montgomery County.

Moreover, there are significant cost savings as well. Montgomery County currently has 27 precincts with 19 polling locations. The 27 precincts require 135 poll workers. With vote centers, the county would have five polling locations and an estimate of 50 workers.

The estimated saving is $25,000 per election. A survey conducted by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute has projected a cost per voter with vote centers being 34 percent less than precinct voting.

Vote Centers provide flexibility. Currently staffing at the 27 precincts is fixed. With Vote Centers, staffing & machines can be changed in the middle of the day, moving some staff and machines to centers with highest traffic.

Voters in counties which have switched to Vote Centers have been very positive about the change. A Ball State University Study in April, 2008 indicated that 86 percent of Tippecanoe County voters rated vote centers as equal or more convenient than voting in their former precincts. In another survey conducted by the League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette, more than 90 percent of the voters preferred Vote Centers.

The locations of the five Vote Centers for Montgomery County have not yet been determined. The locations must be large enough for the equipment, have adequate parking, access to the internet, and be handicapped accessible. LWV members recommended creation of a public committee to provide input on determining vote center locations.

Change is challenging, and it will be important to use this year to educate the public on locations and procedures at vote centers, new machines and the continued opportunities for absentee and early voting. A major goal for the LWV will be to increase voter turnout!

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.