The vote center concept appears to be dead in St. Joseph County, at least for now.
The St. Joseph County Election Board decided to not move forward with the planned implementation of vote centers in 2015. Vote center implementation was previously delayed due to concerns over the public’s familiarity with the plan.
The proposed vote center plan would have consolidated the number of Election Day sites in St. Joseph County from 154 to 40. The cost-saving measure would also have allowed county residents to vote at any of the 40 vote centers across the county. The plan called for 18 early voting vote centers at places such as libraries.
Much of the past year has been dedicated to improving the concept. The bipartisan Vote Center Committee held regular meetings and four separate public hearings on the issue.
But critics point to the effect on turnout. The concern is that some county residents would find their polling locations farther away. Concerns also arose over the possibility of significant delays due to the consolidation of voting locations and the technology required to make vote centers possible.
The St. Joseph County Democratic Party, which came out against the proposal, says that vote center counties were among the three lowest in turnout throughout the entire state. Indiana had the lowest turnout of any state in the nation on Election Day.
“When reviewing the detailed facts, this would be changing a system that isn’t broken and has little cost savings to something the public doesn’t want,” St. Joseph County Democratic Party Chairman Jason Critchlow said in a news release.
A number of vote center counties did in fact experience significant problems on Election Day, although supporters of the concept argue that any change in voting procedures would cause hiccups.
Elkhart County, which first adopted vote centers in the May 2014 primaries, served as a case study for St. Joseph County’s plan. Elkhart County experienced delays exceeding 40 minutes on Election Day during a cycle where Indiana had the lowest turnout in the nation.
Elkhart County’s problems stemmed from technological issues. Vote centers require Internet connections to communicate between voting locations to ensure the integrity of the election. Whereas a voter in a precinct-based election would vote at one location, vote center counties must have that voter’s information at all locations. If the Internet-based technology used to communicate between vote centers breaks down, it can cause severe delays for voters. Another issue arose with memory cards, which reached their capacity.
Floyd County, a rural southern Indiana county of only 75,000 residents, saw voters waiting in line for 90 minutes at some vote center locations. Similar issues arose in Terre Haute and Richmond.
Below, we have the draft vote center plan for St. Joseph County that was last updated on November 10, 2014.