Dearborn County Task Force To Consider Voting Centers For Elections

Dearborn County’s Clerk of Courts is considering some changes to where and how voters cast their ballot on election day.

(Dearborn County, Ind.) – Reducing the number of polling locations, but allowing you to vote at any of them, is an idea being considered for Dearborn County voters.

Dearborn County Clerk of Courts Gayle Pennington says a voting centers task force has been established to look at the possibility of opening fewer polling places in the county on election day.

“It’s hard to get poll workers, and we would save money by not needing as many poll workers,” she says.

In the May 2018 primary election, there were not enough poll workers stepping forward to ensure that each polling location had bipartisan staffing, according to Pennington.

Currently, Dearborn County citizens can only vote on Election Day at their assigned precinct, typically closest to their residence. Those precincts are scattered across more than 30 locations around the county.

As Pennington explains, switching to a voting centers model would allow voters to cast their ballot at any voting center they can get to. For example, if you live in St. Leon but work all day in Aurora, you could vote at an Aurora voting center.

Other Indiana counties have adopted the voting centers model. Pennington says counties with population sizes similar to Dearborn County have around 10 voting centers.

Pennington estimates the county could save thousands of dollars a year on running elections. The county budgeted $225,000 for elections in 2018. Nearly $59,000 of that is for poll workers.

However, a switch to voting centers would require the county to purchase new, electronic voting machines with touch screens. The machines would print off a completed paper ballot, which voters would review before placing them into a ballot box.

Pennington explains that although new machines would cost money, they could pay for themselves by eliminating the $35,000 per election year expense of printing thousands of paper ballots on card stock.

The county used newly-purchased, refurbished voting machines during the May 2018 primary election. The machines, which experienced battery problems in that election, were purchased by the previous county clerk, Rick Probst, she says.

The voting centers task force will hold their first meeting on Tuesday, August 22. The task force will include Pennington, the Dearborn County Board of Elections, the local political party chairs, a county commissioner, a county council member, and two inspectors. Several meetings are expected to follow.

Pennington expects to hold a town hall later this year to get the public’s feedback on the idea. A date or venue have not been announced yet.

“I want to know if people are in favor of it and comfortable with it,” she says.

No timeline has been set for transitioning to a voting centers model, if county officials even decide to go that direction. Pennington says she could deliver the task force’s recommendation to the county commissioners and county council by the end of the year.

“Now is the time to do it before the smaller (municipal) elections,” says Pennington.

Pennington says that if the voting centers model is adopted in Dearborn County, it would not affect early absentee voting. Early voting would still be held at the Dearborn County Courthouse in Lawrenceburg during the 30 days leading up to the election. Some satellite voting on Saturdays could be introduced, Pennington adds.

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