It’s been debated
in Porter County almost as much as the chicken or the egg being first, but
the County Election Board will revisit the discussion of whether voting
centers are the best direction to pursue in getting people to the polls.
A few state
representatives, County Council members, election workers, and both GOP and
Democrat party chairs attended the board’s meeting on Tuesday to hear and
give input for making voting more convenient for voters in future elections.
Next year is an off-year, which gives the board more time to explore, said
Board President and Republican member David Bengs.
“I think it’s the
best time to begin the discussion,” Bengs said.
Making a clarion
call for voting centers, State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, said voting
centers make it possible for any registered voter in the county to visit any
one of the locations to cast a ballot. As it is now, voters on Election Day
must report to their specific precinct voting location and Aylesworth said
its difficult for voters who have to be at work or someplace else farther
“This is all about
increasing voter participation by making it easier,” said Aylesworth, adding
that 29 counties in Indiana so far have made the switch to voting centers.
“This is what I call forward motion. I see what voting is moving toward. I
think it’s the right thing to do.”
For Porter County
to move to voting centers, the decision would have to be a joint agreement
with the Election Board which would adapt the proposal, the County Board of
Commissioners which would approve the concepts and the County Council which
would decide the funding.
Aylesworth what perspective the Indiana General Assembly has on voter
centers, on whether they would require all counties to have voting centers
in the future or would it be left to the counties to decide on their own.
State Rep. Chuck
Moseley, D-Portage, who sits as a member of the House of Representative’s
Elections Committee, said he supports giving counties local control as the
state has done with other matters. He would not be in favor of a mandate,
especially an unfunded mandate.
“You don’t want us
to make that decision for you,” Moseley told the board. “I think we should
allow the county to do as they see fit.”
Moseley said he
encourages counties to have open-minded discussions about what is best for
them. Deciding in favor of voting centers is usually a long process, he
If voting centers
are considered for the county, Moseley said officials will have to make sure
that they are “geographically” equal in that it should be just as convenient
for a Hebron resident to reach a voting center as it is for someone in
Board member J.J. Stankiewicz and other Democrats in the room expressed
skepticism about instituting voting centers and asked Aylesworth why more
counties haven’t bought into the concept despite the benefits he claims.
the hesitancy by some people to change and differing “political
philosophies” as probable reasons.
turnout for this year’s general election was over 62 percent and there were
no challenges made or any reason for recounts, Stankiewicz said. He said he
sees the system in Porter County as not broken.
Bengs said that
even though voting centers may not be the right decision, there can be other
steps taken that could make some improvements. One thing seen in this last
election was “the huge boon” of early voting and maybe that’s an area that
can be studied, he said.
County GOP Chair
Michael Simpson said he likes the idea that residents can vote anywhere with
voting centers, but supports exploring other options like mail-in ballots.
member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, agreed with Stankiewicz that the County
already has a good system and said that if there are changes, she hopes that
a paper trail can still be maintained so voters will know that their vote
County Clerk and
Election Board member Karen Martin said the County saw 66 percent voter
turnout in 2008 but it subsided to 64 percent in the 2012 presidential
election and this year was 62 percent. But early voting sites saw a four
percent increase so there should be something done to make progress.
Chair for Porter County Jeff Chidester said it is worthwhile to look at all
options. He also suggested that the board put a voting center somewhere in
the south half of the county. That would take the pressure off the
Valparaiso site, where voters were waiting in line longer than an hour to
vote, he added.
Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek said that even though the turnout
percentages have decreased, more people voted in 2016. But because voter
registrations increased significantly since 2008, it affected the turnout
Kozuszek said she
has not supported the concept of voting centers because she hasn’t heard of
any place where the turnout rate increased. The one thing that seems to
drive voters the most is if there is a high-profile race like this year’s
The Election Board
will be reconfiguring contracts this next year as the current vendor
contract with Election Software and Systems is due to expire.
Stankiewicz said he
would like to have the bids for service be very specific as to what the
board is seeking. Voters Registration Republican Director Sundae Schoon said
the County’s IT Department can help with the details on what is needed.
The board will meet
after the start of the new year to have further discussions.