Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 18, 2013

First draft of re-vamped voting system proves divisive

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — A draft proposal presented Tuesday night by the Decatur County Election Board to switch Decatur County’s current voting system to a “Vote Center” system was met with uncertainty and some outright opposition.

Deputy County Clerk Faith Koors, in charge of voter registration, told the Daily News that she worked three months on creating Tuesday’s proposal and was green-lighted by the County Election Board, the County Commissioners and the City Council to publicly present the draft.

“I had to come up with a plan,” Koors said, “that was as cost effective as possible.”

She added that, in writing the draft, she had to select potential Vote Center facilities that could adequately accommodate voters — including parking. Said facilities must also offer adequate internet access — a key component in any Vote Center paradigm.

“I think the negative response came from the fact that people simply don’t fully understand what we’re proposing,” Koors said. “We’re not hiding anything. People should know that this is their decision, not ours. That’s why we publicly presented our draft — so we could hear public opinion and get peoples’ input. Our goal is to improve Decatur County’s voting for everyone.”

A large part of the problem, Koors added, is that people attending Tuesday’s meeting perceived the presented draft as a “done deal.” “Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said. “We’re far from being done, and we want the public’s help.”

“It’s our place,” she continued, “to let the county know their options and to find out what they want to do. That’s what we hoped to accomplish Tuesday night.”

A Vote Center, Koors explained, is a polling place where everybody in the county — regardless of precinct — can vote. According to Koors, any registered voter can vote at any Vote Center site.

“You can vote at any site, any time of day and never worry about being in the wrong precinct,” she said.

Vote Centers have been in use since 2007, when three Indiana pilot counties began testing the system to work out bugs, gauge voter reaction and understand how the system works.

Results among the pilot counties, Koors said, were favorable, and Decatur County has long considered switching to a Vote Center system.

Following Tuesday’s presentation, Koors is currently working on a second Decatur County Vote Center draft proposal.

Whereas Tuesday’s draft suggested four total Decatur County Vote Centers, with two alternate sites — all in Greensburg — Koors hopes to establish six county-based Vote Centers and two Centers in Greensburg in the next draft.

She furthermore hopes to use existing polling sites where possible (including Greensburg, there are currently 18 voting locations in Decatur County). She must first verify that those sites will provide adequate space and parking, and internet access.

If so, in addition to the two Greensburg Vote Centers, the second draft will propose Vote Centers in Adams, Fugit Clay and Salt Creek Townships. Sandcreek North and South would be integrated with Westport for the sixth County polling place.

Koors said she’s also aware that some of Tuesday’s attendees might have been leery of MicroVote’s presence and of their role in a switch to a Vote Center system.

MicroVote representative Steve Shamo attended Tuesday’s meeting at her personal request, Koors said, to explain e-polling books and the benefits of MicroVote’s voting machine User Interface (UI).

Pollbooks, Koors explained, are used to keep track of how many people vote and who those voters are. Pollbooks are a means of preventing people from voting twice.

“The pollbook records the fact that an individual came to vote,” Koors said. “They also record absentee voters.”

With the manual pollbooks currently used by the county, each individual voter from the pollbook is recorded via manual scan.

“With an electronic pollbook,” Koors explained, “all you have to do is download everyone that voted onto our Indiana Statewide Voter Registration System presented by First Tuesday.”

She continued, “A pollbook system can work one of three ways: One method sends cards to voters, which are scanned when he or she comes to vote, automatically entering the voter into the e-pollbook system. You can also scan the voter’s driver’s license into the e-pollbook or enter each voter into the system manually.”

Under an e-poll-book system, voters would still have to sign a label. “We keep one, and the voter gives one to the poll judge. The labels include precinct location information,” Koors said, adding, “Electronic pollbooks save work hours and significant amounts of money on copier costs, because they negate the need to print out poll books.”

“If we ultimately decide to use vote centers,” Koors added, “you’d have to print pollbooks for each of the county’s 20 precincts if you don’t also use e-pollbooks. Then you’d have to manually look up each voter in each of the 20 pollbooks. But with e-pollbooks, everybody’s on the computer, and there’s no copying. As soon as a voter is marked in the e-pollbook, that information is automatically transferred to all the vote centers, so everybody knows that person has voted.”

Koors touted e-pollbooks as such a significant upgrade, in fact, that, if Indiana law allowed it, she would strongly recommend the county make the switch even if it ultimately decided against Vote Centers.  

Current Indiana law, however, specifies that a voting district must switch to Vote Centers to switch to e-pollbooks

The voting-machine UI Shamo presented Tuesday night uses black lettering on a blue background as opposed to the black lettering on a white background used in current county voting machines.

The chief benefit of the UI, Koors explained, is that it significantly cuts screen glare.

Koors stressed that Shamo wasn’t trying to sell the UI or the e-pollbook Tuesday night, but was merely trying to disseminate information about the two products.

She was also adamant that MicroVote wouldn’t profit from the Vote Centers themselves, should the system ultimately be implemented.

“This switch wouldn’t be about profit," she said. "It's about improving our voting system and saving taxpayer dollars."

The County Election Board will hold another public meeting April 21, Koors said, and she hopes for a larger turnout. She won’t have draft number two completed, but said public input at that meeting could go a long way in helping shape the next draft.

The next meeting will be at 6 p.m., April 21, at the Decatur County Public Schools Administration Building (formerly A to Z Occasions). For more information, call 663-8223.

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011