Allen County election officials’ proposal to reassign election polling sites is very likely needed but could create confusion and inconvenience unless election officials take steps to keep voters informed. It also should serve as impetus for establishing vote centers to allow residents to cast their ballot at the most convenient location.
County officials want to reduce the number of voting sites from 128 to 111. The proposal calls for eliminating 35 locations and adding 18 new ones. The proposed reorganization is meant to make it more efficient for the county’s 120,000 registered voters to cast their ballots.
We have some locations that always have short lines – which is a good thing – and some locations where the precinct workers are having to work long hours and voters have to deal with long lines, said Zach Klutz, president and Republican member of the Allen County Election Board. We need to even that out.
Issues such as accessibility and inadequate parking have made it necessary for election officials to make changes to a couple of voting locations each year, but it’s been a long time since they have done an overhaul.
Basically, we’re really just trying to correct a lot of problems that have accumulated over the years, said Beth Dlug, director of elections. People are going past two or three locations that are closer to them but have no room. We wanted to correct all of that. The ultimate goal is that voters will end up going to places that are closer to them.
The initial result will be that 51 percent of Allen County voters will be assigned a new voting location for the 2014 election.
Change is never easy, and many voters become accustomed to their assigned voting spot. Change on this scale could create major voter confusion unless election officials take extensive steps to keep the public informed.
Klutz said voters have had to get used to a lot of election and voting changes in recent years, supplying a photo ID to vote, for example. And he is cognizant of the need to help voters understand this plan.
This is one thing I’m concerned about, Klutz said. Our public relations campaign needs to be more than some high-tech tool to tell people where they need to vote. That doesn’t work for many of our voters. This is going to take a lot of ramp-up time. We’re going to try to make it as easy as possible and use as many mediums as possible to try to reach all the voters.
Election staff plan on working with local political parties, libraries and schools, as well as the Indiana Statewide Voter Registration System and local license branches, to publicize the changes.
But Klutz said he is concerned that their recommendations don’t go far enough. He also wants to do a direct-mail piece if the money can be found to pay for it.
A lack of start-up money is also what is preventing the county from making the transition to vote centers, which would allow voters to vote wherever it is most convenient rather than being tied to a specific precinct-based voting location.
Studies have shown that vote centers save money and encourage better election turnout because it makes it easier for voters.
In my opinion, our hand was forced to say no to vote centers because of funding, Klutz said. If I had a choice between vote centers and redoing voting locations like we are, I’d go with vote center hands down.
He said the start-up costs for the technology required to make vote centers a reality are prohibitive for the moment.
As the Republican appointee, I don’t even know if I am aligned with all of the members of my party, but I’m in favor of them, he said. Vote centers save money, but money is not the only reason to go with them. It’s to make it easier to vote.
Election board members should keep working toward adopting vote centers to make voting easier and to eliminate the continuing need to reshuffle precinct-based voting locations.