2015-05-05 / Front Page

Committee Gauging Voter Interest For Vote Centers In Owen County

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer

A new committee has been tasked by the county election board to gauge the local interest of registered voters to make Owen County one of 22 Indiana counties currently using or with plans to utilize vote centers during primary and general elections.

While change can often be met with opposition, the end result of condensing the 18 precincts to between six and eight vote centers each election cycle would simply be convenience. Currently, registered voters must vote at their respective precincts, unless voting an early absentee ballot at the county courthouse. With vote centers, a registered voter could cast a ballot at any location in their resident county.

“It’s basically a voting place where anyone can go, you don’t have to go to a specific location to vote. They’re going to be scattered around, and we’re thinking six to eight different vote centers, and that depends on how many people vote where,” committee secretary Ed O’Brien said.

With just 34 percent of Owen County’s registered voters casting a ballot in the most recent general election in 2014, the committee and the county’s election board will be working off of the lowest local turnout in recent memory.

Of the 14,667 registered voters, 12,074 were active in early 2014, despite the majority not taking part in the last election. The three precincts with the most voters registered were Washington I with 1,576, Jackson with 1,079 and Washington IV with 1,011.

The county also logged its highest number of absentee ballots a year ago, with a 2014 total of 1,254 absentee ballots cast, accounting for 25 percent of the local turnout. Absentee voters accounted for 18 percent of those voting in 2012, 22 percent in 2010, 28 percent in 2008, 16 percent in 2006, 14 percent in 2004, 13 percent in 2002 and 14 percent in 2000.

Gauging public interest and approaching the Owen County Commissioners and Owen County Council are the first two steps in the process for organizing vote centers. Drafting a plan would be the third step, if public input sends the election board in that direction.

The committee will meet again on Thursday, May 14 at 4:30 p.m. at the Spencer American Legion Post #285, but the committee is still gathering its own thoughts. Seeking direct input from the public will come in the very near future, however, meetings are open to the general public.

“We have to discuss the infrastructure and technol- ogy, electronic poll books, training and procedures,” O’Brien said. “How we reach the people is the focus of our meeting on the 14th, and I’m going to call some other counties to see what was effective in those places. I think it’s a good idea, but do the voters want it? It’s change, and that’s always a hard thing, especially when you get older. It is all about the convenience of voting. We want to put these centers around so people can just stop and vote. We want everyone to vote, of course, to make sure it’s a good election.”

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