Putnam clerk proposes vote centers for 2018 elections
With a nod to voter convenience, modernization and cost savings, the Putnam County clerk plans to upgrade the county’s voting procedures in 2018.
Clerk Heather Gilbert, along with the rest of the Putnam County Election Board, presented a proposal for vote centers at the most recent meeting of the Putnam County Commissioners.
“We’re asking to do this because we’re falling behind,” Gilbert said, pointing out that a number of surrounding counties have gone to the vote center model.
With the likely move to vote centers, voters will no longer be pinned to their particular precincts in terms of voting locations.
Instead, voting will be open to all Putnam County voters at one of eight locations around the county.
Gilbert and her fellow Election Board members — Election Clerk Stacia Hathaway, Bud Sharp and Jack Sutton — have proposed eight locations around the county for the vote centers.
These include the Putnam County Courthouse, Cloverdale Town Hall, Reelsville Fire Department, Bainbridge Community Center, Floyd Township Fire Department, Putnam County Fairgrounds, Greencastle Armory and Wellspring Christian Church in Marion Township.
Besides placing three of the vote centers in Greencastle Township — where 35 percent of the county’s population resided as of the 2010 census — the board has put vote centers in each of the next two most populous communities, Heritage Lake and Cloverdale.
The other three locations lie along either U.S. 40 or U.S. 36.
“We’re hitting all the main arteries in and out (of the county),” Gilbert explained.
The move toward voting centers has been hailed as a step forward for voters who do not work in their own precincts and have trouble getting to the polls during the 12-hour period on election day.
Gilbert also explained that she tried to stick to public buildings when possible, but that no such building exists near U.S. 40 in eastern Putnam County, thus Wellspring was chosen.
Additionally, voting is no longer taking place in schools, a common practice in the past.
“Concerns have arisen regarding the safety of the students in the public school system buildings that we have used in the past,” Gilbert said. “So by making these changes we avoid having voting locations inside the school system buildings.”
The move to vote centers is not yet official as Gilbert appeared before the Putnam County Council on Tuesday evening and will be back before the commissioners on Monday, June 5 for their 9 a.m. meeting.
With the approval to move forward from both boards, the final plan will be up to the Election Board.
The cost savings aspect has a good chance of wooing county officials looking out for the county’s bottom line wherever possible.
Gilbert noted that the move going from 29 polling locations down to eight will cause a big change in the election day staff she needs, down to 56 workers from the 145 previously required.
The county would also provide 267 fewer meals to workers on election day and save on rental costs of several of the locations.
Despite these reductions, officials are not too worried about staffing, as each location will still have seven workers — one inspector, four judges and two clerks — operating 10 to 12 voting machines per location.
With 2017 as the one year out of the four-year cycle without elections, it was the ideal time for the Election Board to do the planning for such a major move.
Gilbert also noted that 2018 is a midterm election, so the extra crowds of a presidential election will not be added to the concerns of operating a new system.
Additional information on vote centers will be provided upon final approval of the plan.