Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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February 11, 2013

New Elkhart County vote center concept outlined

GOSHEN — ELKHART — Voting at a specified precinct may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new vote center concept gaining traction with the Elkhart County Election Board.

Wendy Hudson, clerk of the Circuit Court for Elkhart County and member of the election board, provided a detailed rundown of what that vote center concept might look like during the annual Elkhart County Commissioners and County Council Summit held at the Matterhorn Banquet and Conference Center in Elkhart Friday morning.

According to Hudson, legislation was signed in 2011 that gives each Indiana county the option to become a Vote Center county.

Under such a program, traditional polling places would be eliminated and replaced with a designated number of vote centers equally distributed throughout the county. Hudson noted that such vote centers would be open to all eligible voters in the county, essentially allowing voters to cast their ballots at the vote center of their choice, regardless of the precinct in which they live.

“Vote centers allow a voter to cast their ballot at a location that is convenient to them,” Hudson said. “There is no longer a wrong place to vote.”

With more than 120,000 active voters in the county, Hudson said, the county will most likely need one vote center for every 10,000 registered voters, for a total of approximately 13 centers.

Should the county eventually implement such a program, Hudson said one of the first issues to tackle would be determining exactly where each of those 13 vote centers would be located. Such locations would need to be chosen based on a variety of factors and requirements, she said, including space, parking and compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act.

Once the actual vote center locations are determined, Hudson said the next big issue to tackle would be how best to equip those centers with the necessary technology and manpower.

Along those lines, Hudson provided three separate equipment options along with the pros, cons and anticipated cost for each.

Under the first option, the county would use a combination of the county’s current optical-scan and touchscreen machines to equip each vote center at a projected cost of $250,000. Option one was not recommended by Hudson, however, due to the fact that the county’s current equipment is already outdated and will most likely only get the county through one more election before being rendered completely obsolete.

Under option two — Hudson’s top choice for the vote center conversion process — the county would furnish all vote centers with new, state-of-the-art voting units at an estimated cost of $878,000. Those machines would replace all optical-scan and touchscreen equipment that Elkhart County currently owns, and would be able to handle every ballot style within the county, therefore requiring fewer machines at each vote center.

Option three would require the county to go with all touchscreen machines at each vote center at a projected cost of $710,000. Hudson said the county would be able to eliminate all ballot-on-demand printers, effectively eliminating the significant printing cost for paper election-day ballots.

Hudson discouraged the county from going with that option because she feels paper ballots are “a better verifiable paper trail for a possible recount.”

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Three Goshen elementary schools — Chandler, Chamberlain and West Goshen — are providing free meals to all students during the school year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Nearly 80 percent of students at Chandler, 89 percent of students at Chamberlain and 78 percent of students at West Goshen already qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their family income. How do you feel about the new lunch program?

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