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County Election board to study eliminating voting by precinct

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A clash between two members of different parties on Porter County’s Election Board on Friday ended peacefully as the board agreed to study the possibility of having voting centers replace precinct voting locations in Porter County.

The study was suggested by Board Chairman and Republican representative David Bengs, as County Clerk Karen Martin, a Republican, and Democratic board member J.J. Stankiewicz were arguing about Martin’s plan to cut workers and ballots to save the county some money.

Martin reintroduced a proposal she made prior to May’s primary election to reduce the number of poll workers and use electronic poll books to print ballots that could potentially save $30,000. The proposal did not pass then as Stankiewicz said that the use of e-poll books and fewer ballots could cause problems for both voters and poll workers.

“I don’t put a dollar on a vote. You do,” Stankiewicz told Martin again Friday.

Martin said that with voter turnout at just 11 percent in the primary, ballots were tossed out by the thousands. “We’ve got to start to look at ways to handle this,” she told her colleagues.

Stankiewicz fired back saying money was wasted on purchasing 15 e-poll book devices which were never used in the primary election. Martin said the purchases were not in vain because the devices can be updated and used in future elections once the technology is more applicable.

Changing election setup could further confuse voters about where they go to vote, Stankiewicz said, while Martin argued implementing changes would make it easier for voters and election officials.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Stankiewicz.

Bengs mediated the argument by sharing his thoughts and research on voting centers which counties like Elkhart, similar in size to Porter County, have introduced and seen positive results.

The biggest merit of voting centers is that voters can cast ballots at any location so there would be no confusion about where they should go, Bengs said. Consolidating precinct polling locations into centers will require fewer workers and money will be saved by the efficiency, he said.

“I’m passionate about this,” he said. “This isn’t just a positive decision. It’s the right decision.”

Bengs said due to the time limits, voting centers should not be attempted for this November, but the board should “plant the seed” for discussion in getting them established in Porter County. Once the election board casts a unanimous vote to go forward, Bengs said the plan would need majority votes from both the County Council and County Commissioners. Centers then could be set up in a matter of weeks, he said.

If the voting centers end up being a “disaster” in Porter County, the board can revert back to the old system, so there is not much risk, said Bengs. He did say however that there is a lot of research that goes into configuring voting centers and it won’t be an easy process for the election board.

Martin said the board needs to be “proactive, not reactive.” She said the design would be similar to early voting which has been going on in the county for a number of years. Anyone who wishes to early vote can get a ballot for their precinct regardless of which early voting site they use, she said.

The use of e-poll books at voting centers will be a plus, by scanning a voter’s driver’s license or ID the machine will automatically know what ballot that voter is to get, Martin said.

Stankiewicz said he would be open to hearing further of the merits.

Voting centers have been advocated on occasion for the past five years or so by both Republicans and Democratics in Porter County. One longtime supporter has been Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who has plugged the move because of the potential savings.

Bengs said the Secretary of State’s website, www.in.gov/sos, has a webpage dedicated to voting centers for anyone interested into learning more.

Martin said a representative from the County’s current election equipment vendor, Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), will be at the Porter County Fair, July 24-26, giving residents a demonstration of how e-poll books work.

 

Posted 7/14/2014