WARSAW — Kosciusko County Clerk Ann Torpy is proposing county election officials consider transitioning from using the traditional assigned polling places to vote centers for the 2020 election.
Under the vote center system, any registered voter in the county can vote at any vote center in the county. It’s appealing to folks who live in one town but work in another.
Thirty-eight counties in Indiana have begun using vote centers since state law opened the door for such a move in 2011, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s website.
Torpy is in the beginning stages of gauging public interest in switching and met with Democrats on Tuesday, May 14, to update them on what is being considered. She said she has not yet met with Republican party leaders.
A new state law passed earlier this year by the General Assembly has prompted her interest in looking at vote centers.
The law changes the responsibility of delivering voting machines to polling places prior to Election Day. Traditionally election inspectors from each of the polling places have had that job, but the new law limits the task to one of three options. Two election board members, a bipartisan group or a courier.
Traditionally, the county uses 220 machines at 38 polling locations, Torpy said.
Torpy is proposing the county establish 12 to 15 vote centers spread around the county based on voting “volumes.”
Torpy fears the work would be too much for the election board but said she still needs to learn more about the details of the law. Regardless, by switching to vote centers, that job would be made easier, she said.
The law takes effect in July, meaning it will be implemented in the fall election.
Torpy stressed they are in the very early stages of looking at the switch to vote centers.
“All we’re doing is testing the waters to see what people think,” Torpy said.
If there is sufficient initial support, a study committee comprised of the election board, party chairmen, seasoned poll workers and representatives of county commissioners and county council would then assemble a plan. That proposal would then require approval from the election board before it is sent to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office for approval.
“It’s just more of trying to figure out what’s best for our county. It may not work for our county,” Torpy said.
The formal process would include a 30-day comment period after a plan is drafted, she said.
Torpy said the commissioners have already expressed an interest in looking at the idea.
The study group would focus on issues involving technology, infrastructure and security needed to protect voting machines while housed at the voter center locations, Torpy said.
Six of the 38 counties that have embraced the use of vote centers made the switch in 2018. Fayette County, east of Indianapolis, tried it in 2011, but switched back to the traditional method polling places after one year.
Locally, counties that have transitioned to vote centers include Elkhart, Marshall, Noble and Wabash.
The vote center program also requires the use of electronic poll books, which are mini iPads.
Voter information can be called up on the electronic poll books by scanning a driver’s license or logging in with a name. All of the poll books are synched up to identify whether somebody has already voted.
According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s website, 65 counties have begun using the electronic poll books.
“Using the e-poll books will speed up the process. It’s amazing how quickly it speeds up everything,” Torpy said.,
Registered voters who don’t have a drivers license would be given a provisional ballot, Torpy said.
While the state believes the change to vote centers can result in significant savings to the county, Torpy said they have not determined an estimate on how much money could be saved.
Torpy said her biggest reservation about implementing the switch is making sure all of the vote centers have sufficient connectivity.
State guidelines require at least two of the vote centers to be used for early voting on Saturdays. Torpy suggested two or three vote centers plus the justice building would be used for early voting if the plan wins approval.