By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — When the 2022 election season arrives, Kosciusko County will join several other adjoining counties that have transitioned to the use of vote centers.
The county election board approved a final draft of the vote center plan on Monday morning, Aug. 30, and County Clerk Ann Torpy will now forward the plan to the Indiana Election Commission.
The shift, along with the use of electronic poll books, which began last year, represents the biggest election changes locally since 2006 when the county switched to electronic ballots.
The biggest change voters will notice is simple: Instead of being assigned and allowed to only vote at one polling place, voters residing in Kosciusko County will be able to cast ballots at any of the 21 vote centers that are planned for 2022.
The county pared down the number of polling locations during the pandemic to 25 places.
Other nearby counties that already transitioned to vote centers include Elkhart, St. Joseph, Marshall, Noble and Wabash counties.
According to the Indiana Secretary of State’s website, Kosciusko will be part of a slim majority of counties in Indiana – at least 47 of the 92 counties – in shifting to vote centers. It was unclear how many counties like Kosciusko are also adapting to vote centers this year.
The county has been looking at moving to the vote center concept for several years but delayed it one year so it would not arrive in a presidential election year.
The county formally proposed the plan and held a handful of meetings as it was developed. Prior to passage, Torpy said nobody had disputed the plan, which remains available online at the county election page.
The only person to attend the meeting other than election officials and the media was a woman who asked what would prevent voters from going to more than one vote center and casting ballots repeatedly.
Officials told her that the use of electronic poll books at each of the vote centers will automatically update files to help prevent such a move.
The change is also expected to result in a savings with the need for fewer poll workers. Torpy said she’s unsure how much the county will save as a result.
Election Board member Randy Girod said he heard from two residents who said they look forward to the improved accessibility and flexibility the new format provides
Election officials were asked if they think having more options will result in more people voting.
Torpy said she’s unsure if there will be an increase, and said other counties have seemed to gravitate toward polling places they normally use for the first few years.
The change also means poll workers won’t have to send voters to other locations if they showed up at the wrong polling site.
As part of the plan, the county will add an early voting station in North Webster in addition to one normally used on Warsaw on the two Saturdays before Election Day.
Syracuse, North Webster and Warsaw tend to have more voters who seek to use early voting so the new early voting location will help accommodate that demand, Torpy said.
According to state law and voter history, the county is only required to have about half a dozen vote centers. Officials said they expected to consider shortening the list of vote centers in the future.
The election board always reviews the election process after each election and will continue to do that each year. Torpy said she thinks it might be best to wait for an entire three-year election cycle before considering changes.