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The benefits of voting centers

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By The Staff

While Indiana's property-tax system continues to be highly scrutinized at the Statehouse, leaders must remember that true tax transformation requires that government spending decrease. Every government process should be inspected for efficiency, and our local-election process should be no different. To lower local taxes, local government should be allowed to choose vote-center elections as a substitute for precinct-based elections.

The vote-center concept permits the county to place voting booths at any location in the county, and voters to cast their ballots at the center most convenient to them.

Paper poll books inhibited flexibility in the voting process and would be replaced by an electronic poll book; this book would be connected to the vote center with secure technology, permitting immediate updates to the list and preventing voters from voting at multiple locations.

With legislature approval in 2006, our office assisted two counties, Wayne and Tippecanoe, in testing a vote-center pilot program last year. The results were clear: Vote-center elections cost less, improved the integrity of the election process, made voting convenient and kept local officials in control of local elections. The Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University conducted a study of voters' experiences at vote centers during the municipal election in November and found that they overwhelmingly supported the vote-centers concept.

Taxpayer Savings - Vote centers allow the county to serve more voters with fewer resources. Election administrators can move from inadequate polling places to bigger and more convenient facilities, accommodating larger numbers of voters in centralized locations while significantly reducing the number of polling places needed. Fewer polling places translate into fewer machines and fewer paid poll workers.

Improving Election Integrity - Imperative to the success of vote centers is a direct, secure connection between the county's voter-registration records and electronic poll books stored at county-election-board offices. The electronic poll book is updated in real time and allows election officials to ensure each person votes only once. This electronic safeguard improves the security of elections and instills voter confidence.

Voting Convenience - Counties have used the precinct-based voting system since before Abraham Lincoln served as president. While it was efficient at the time, the system is no longer the best way to administer elections in some jurisdictions.

By offering the option of voting at the location most convenient for individuals, vote centers can be strategically and centrally located. Centers can be established in high-traffic, accessible locations, with preference given to locations along public transit lines, such as libraries, shopping malls, senior centers, grocery stores and public office buildings.

The vote-centers concept offers a sound method for modernizing our time-tested practice of voting in the communities where we live and work.

Local Control - The current vote-centers initiative protects the ability of county election boards to make election-administration decisions based on what works best for their communities with a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

Because the vote-centers concept is not a one-size-fits-all solution to election administration in each of Indiana's 92 counties but can be adapted to a particular county's size and voter makeup, it provides more flexibility and the ability to reduce the expense of administering elections.

As the General Assembly finishes their work at the Statehouse this week, they will consider passing Senate Bill 235, which would allow all counties to choose the vote-center option for elections.

As Indiana's chief election officer, I believe that the vote-centers concept offers a more efficient, secure and cost effective way of administering elections and is the next logical step for positive election reform and local spending restraint.

Rokita is Indiana's secretary of state.