Vote center committee to have plan by midsummer
The committee members met for the first time Wednesday evening to begin discussions for what a switch to vote center voting, as opposed to the current precinct voting, would mean for the next election. The committee was established by the St. Joseph County Election Board at its February meeting.
"We've been looking at this switch for about a year," county commissioner Andy Kostielney said at the meeting.
Vote centers would be spread across the county, according to a map handout given to the committee members. While an exact number or locations have yet to be determined, the general principle behind vote centers is that anyone can vote anywhere; there's no need to go to a particular precinct.
"It's convenience," County Clerk Terri Rethlake said after the meeting. "Vote centers are much more convenient for voters. There's no wrong place to vote."
Kostielney, who will act as leader for the committee, also discussed some other goals, including creating a fact sheet for the public and attending a regional informational meeting on vote centers. The first step is information, and getting it to the committee members and the public, he said.
"We want to gather the information and make sure the committee members are comfortable with the information," he said. "Then we will update plans for the vote centers."
The plans would include a list of possible vote centers. While a rough draft of a list does exist, Kostielney said the committee is going to start from there and review it, possibly adding more locations.
"I would much rather err on the side of having too many vote centers than not enough," he said. "And the goal of vote centers is to make voting easier and cleaner."
Kostielney said he's optimistic that the committee will be able to successfully make recommendations to the Election Board by the summer.
"Thankfully, a lot of the groundwork has already been done," he said. "We'll just be fine-tuning and tweaking it."
Once the committee makes a recommendation to the Election Board, the Election Board would have to make a unanimous vote to move the issue of moving to vote centers to the County Council and Board of Commissioners.
What also will be determined through the committee period is a rough estimate of the cost of switching to vote centers. Rethlake said they have numbers from a previous request for proposals for switching to centers, but those numbers leave some factors out.
"In the beginning, it won't be saving us much, but in the long run it will save us money," Rethlake said. "But, in the long run, it's not about saving money. It's about getting people out to vote and making it easier to vote."
The next meeting of the Election Board will be at 10 a.m. March 27. The vote center committee will next meet April 17.
Staff writer Amanda Gray: