There’s still time to provide input on Vote Center Plan

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Voters have until the end of the week to provide their input on a plan which could change the way Greene Countians vote.

Last month, Greene County Clerk Susan Fowler and Voter Registration Clerk Teressa Smith went before the Greene County Council and Commissioners to propose the Vote Center Plan, which aims to save the county money and hopefully streamline the voting process.

While parts of the plan would have a positive impact, some individuals have expressed concerns.

Smith and fellow Voter Registration Clerk Steve Magner provided more details about the plan, which they believe will make it easier to vote in Greene County.

Cost-savings is a major part of the county’s decision to move toward the Vote Center Plan, as the plan has condensed the number of vote centers from 20 to 10 polling places throughout the county.

The Voter Registration Office provided a breakdown of the estimated $4,500 in annual savings.

• The county allots $24 per day in meals per poll worker, which comes to a total of $1,512. Fewer polling places would mean a need for fewer meals, cutting back that expense to $1,080.

• Inspectors are paid $114 per election day. Now, they are paying 19 inspectors at a total of $2,166. This plan would drop that number to nine inspectors, at a total of $1,026.

• Clerks and judges are paid $84 per election day. The previous plan had 44 people between the 20 polling places on election day at a total of $3,696. The new plan would cut that number to 36 clerks and judges, totaling a cost of $3,024.

• Overall, it would cut $2,244 per election day, a total of $4,488 per year.

Magner noted cost-cutting measures in all areas of government are important, as budgets are constantly dwindling.

On paper, the plan appears to make sense as there are large discrepancies in the number of active voters associated with each polling place, with a few exceptions.

For example, last year Cass Township had its own polling place in Newberry, with only 196 active registered voters, according to information provided in the Vote Center plan. Meanwhile, other polling places throughout the county had up to 2,600 registered to visit a single polling place. Most averaged between 1,000 and 1,500 active voters registered. Even with the number of active voters registered in each precinct, only a portion of those actually turn out on election day.

Looking back at those numbers, this is also where a major problem arises for some voters, in Linton especially.

As the largest community in the county, Linton also naturally has the highest number of active registered voters. This plan will cut down the number of polling places in Linton to one -- placing all seven Stockton Township precincts in one location. Last year, 2,628 active voters were registered to vote at the Roy Clark Building. The change will mean more than 5,000 active voters will be assigned to that one vote center.

But, this brings us to another positive aspect of the Vote Center Plan: it will allow voters to visit any polling place in the county. Among the 10 polling places set up, they are all within 10 miles of each other. This means if you’re on your way to work from Linton to Bloomfield, for example, you can stop at the 4-H Fairgrounds or the courthouse on Election Day. The plan opens up all 10 polling places to every Greene County voter, whether you live in the precinct or not thanks to the implementation of the digital registration system. Magner explained the digital registration allows workers to quickly process each voter who enters the polling place.

It also opens up two early vote days -- on Saturdays -- in the county before Election Day.

Smith stressed the Voter Registration Office will also be open for early voting in the month beforehand, and absentee voting will also be an option.

She noted fewer polling places will also mean more voting machines at each location.

Greene County has a total of 64 voting machines. Three of those machines will be in use at the courthouse for early voting and two will be used at each satellite location the two Saturdays before Election Day. Smith said this leaves 57 machines to be distributed among the 10 polling places, with at least four at each location.

“For example, Linton will need more than just the four cited in the plan,” Smith said.

The Greene County Election Board spent a lot of time working on the plan, Magner noted, with members reaching out to other counties across the state who have already implemented the plan.

“We think it should be a win-win. It saves the county money and it is more convenient for the voters,” Magner said.

Smith said in the few weeks since the plan was presented to the county governing bodies, only a few individuals have called to make comments or learn more. The Voter Registration Office will continue answering questions and addressing concerns on the plan until Aug. 18, at which point a resolution will be presented to the council and commissioners for approval, then forwarded to the state to be placed on file.

The Voter Registration Office can be reached at 812-384-2015.

Smith noted if the plan is approved, it will then be reviewed by the Election Board after the first election it is implemented. The county will have the option to add or subtract the number of vote centers in the county.