To the editor:
During the last week of March, Marion County political leaders, elected officials, poll workers and community groups convened in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building to begin the discussion about the future of voting in Indianapolis. Launched in February, the Voter Experience Project is the Marion County Election Board’s effort to listen, deliberate and ultimately decide how and where we will vote in the future.
Why are we having this conversation now? Our current fleet of voting equipment is more than 10 years old. Purchased in 2002, the first generation machines are starting to show signs of wear despite a vigorous maintenance schedule. Replacement parts are also becoming more difficult to find. In addition, our software license and maintenance contract expire in 2014, and we don’t know if the software vendor will continue to support their product after next year.
I’m not trying to sound the alarm about our equipment – yet. The technology still has plenty of useful life left and we will continue to conduct fair, safe and secure elections. The Voter Experience Project will allow us to discuss our future needs and gather consensus from our community now to make better, more informed decisions. Like my grandpa used to say: “Fix the roof while the sun is still shining!”
There are currently two kinds of Election Day voting in Indiana: precinct-based and vote centers. In Marion County, we run precinct-based elections, meaning voters go to their home precinct to vote; vote centers mean you can vote anywhere in the county. There are costs and benefits to each, but the voting method chosen by a county is largely driven by the type of voting equipment it uses.
Marion County’s voting technology currently does a great job of meeting the needs of a precinct-based election; it would not work in a vote center model. Our equipment that accepts paper ballots is programmed to only read and tabulate results for one precinct, meaning 600 scanners would be deployed to one vote center – essentially, our entire fleet. Obviously this isn’t a workable solution.
The cost equation for each model differs, too. The county purchased enough ballot scanners (those gray boxes you use to feed your ballot) for each precinct and enough touch-screen machines for each polling place. Vote centers would require purchasing different technology – most likely resulting in a larger, more costly fleet of voting machines.
Finally, location is another critical factor to consider when deciding between the options. There are about 1,200 registered voters in each precinct. By Indiana law, vote centers have to accommodate up to 10,000 voters. Clearly it’s easier to find sites that can meet the needs of a smaller group of people, especially in a large, urban city like Indianapolis. While precinct-based elections require sites to be located in or near a voter’s neighborhood, vote centers allow for placement closer to where we shop, work and play.
These are just a few of the issues the study group will be debating and deliberating over the next few months. Study group meetings are open to the public, and you can learn more online at www.indy.gov/VEP or catch them on Channel 16. Later this summer the Board will announce the dates of the community conversations where all voters can provide their input.
I’m excited to begin this important dialogue and want to thank the members of the study group in advance for their time, energy and effort. I look forward to this critical community conversation!
Elizabeth L. White
Marion County Clerk