By JOHN KLINE
---- — GOSHEN — Tuesday’s primary election served as the first use of vote centers by the county since the concept’s adoption earlier this year, and county election officials Wednesday officially designated the election a success.
“Overall it went really well,” said Elklhart County Election Board Chairman Wayne Kramer of the election Wednesday morning. “We had some normal startup errors in the morning, but they were not unlike the errors we’ve had in previous elections. I also went out and visited a few of the vote centers during the day, talked to some of the voters, and the consensus was that people really appreciated the convenience of the vote centers and enjoyed using the touchscreens, contrary to what I think a few people were thinking going in. So overall I think it was a success.”
According to Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson, the final turnout for Tuesday’s primary came to just 15.05 percent of voters, though that number does not include any provisional ballots cast during the election.
“So we won’t have final results until after the 16th, which is the deadline to handle anybody that got a provisional ballot,” Hudson said. “But right now it’s looking like it was a little over 1 percent less than 2010, so it’s not off by a lot.”
When asked what may have been behind Tuesday’s low turnout, Hudson said it is always hard to pinpoint exactly what motivates people either to vote or stay home, though she did say that this election in particular did seem to have a bit less hype than some of the county’s previous elections.
“I just don’t think there was a lot of hype that got people interested,” Hudson said, noting that many of the races for both the Republicans and Democrats were uncontested. “The public questions brought people out, so that was good, but some of the countywide races, I’m just not sure that everybody was all that interested in them, which is sad.”
According to Kramer, the largest group of voters to turn out for Tuesday’s election fell in the 55 and older age range.
“Clearly the age 55 and older group carried the day,” Kramer said. “Without them, the turnout would have been abysmal.”
As an example, Kramer noted that voters in the age range of 18 to 35 cast less than 500 ballots total for the entire election.
“So that shows you young people still have some issues relative to turning out and voting in a primary,” Kramer said.
While the election in large part proceeded without much issue, Hudson noted that the board did run into some issues when it came to unusually large turnouts at a few vote centers, the most notable of which was the Northside Gym location in Elkhart.
“We had one center that had very high turnout, and we couldn’t have anticipated that, because with vote centers anyone can vote anywhere they want to,” Hudson said. “The Northside Gym was very busy, so we dispatched two more touchscreen voting machines and more voter access cards so they could get their traffic moving through there quicker. Other than that, it was just working through the basic change of address issues for the voters, especially as they related to the public questions. But we handled it.”
Also generating some buzz Tuesday evening was a hiccup involving a memory card from one of the voting machines that was unintentionally left at the Northside Gym after the polls closed, resulting in about an hour and a half delay in the final vote count for that center.
“We had an issue where we had to go to Northside Gym after we thought we had everything in and retrieve a memory card that they failed to bring back,” Hudson said. “So that ended up delaying the results.”
With the county’s first vote center election now behind them, Hudson said the next step for the Election Board will be to take some time over the next few weeks to reflect on the pros and cons of Tuesday’s election in an effort to determine what needs to be changed or done differently leading up to the November general election.
“I’m feeling confident that we can make the things that weren’t perfect this time around at least a little better,” Hudson said.
Also on the radar for the board in the coming weeks is a discussion about the possible creation of an additional vote center north of the river in Elkhart.
“While we were searching for possible vote center locations, the one area that was a concern for us was north of the river in Elkhart,” Kramer said. “We could not find a suitable vote center north of the river. So we knew that Northside Gym was going to probably take the brunt of all of those voters on the north side of Elkhart, and as it turns out, that was the busiest of all of our vote centers with 1,726 votes cast. In a primary, that’s a big number, so we’re going to continue looking at options for a vote center on the north side of the river.”
And for those in the county still feeling a bit uncomfortable about the switch to the new vote center concept, Kramer noted that the Election Board plans on holding several more public information sessions throughout the summer months in order to continue familiarizing people with the concept leading up to the general election.
“And we’re also going to have a booth at the 4-H fair this year as well, and we’ll have a full setup of a vote center there so that people can actually try and experience the process,” Kramer said. “That should really help us reach a big number of Elkhart County residents, so we think that too might help in promoting awareness in the new process and equipment.”