Knox County is officially moving to vote centers.
Members of the county’s Election Board on Monday — following a second rather uneventful public hearing — voted to move forward with the establishment of vote centers in 2022.
Member and lone board Democrat Dale Webster, who, until recently, was against the move, said he thought the very few concerns expressed so far would likely be alleviated after the first election using vote centers.
“I understand the concerns, and if we do have places where people end up standing in line, we can address those before the next election,” Webster said during the brief meeting Monday held in Circuit Court.
“And none of this is written in stone,” he said referencing the current plan, which takes the county from 29 voting locations across 32 precincts to just 13 vote centers. “If it turns out to be a bad decision, it can be undone.
“But I don’t think it will be.”
Knox County residents will now be able to go to any of the 13 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day, and advocates believe it will entice more people to vote, especially younger voters.
County Clerk David Shelton, a Republican member on the board, has led the charge toward vote centers and has argued consistently that they make it easier on the voter overall.
The most common problem on Election Day, officials say, is people calling because they don’t know where they are supposed to vote — or showing up to the wrong precinct altogether.
“People go to the wrong place to vote, are told they have to go somewhere else, and we don’t ever know if they went there or just got frustrated and went home,” he said during the sparsely attended public hearing, the second of a state-mandated two.
“I just believe this will help a lot of people.”
The plan includes four voting centers in Vincennes, two in Bicknell and others in most every incorporated town and city. Shelton, too, tried to make sure they were all near a major thoroughfare for easy access.
Moving to vote centers, too, Shelton says, will ease the burden of trying to find enough poll workers for 29 locations come Election Day, and it’s likely to save the county $10,000 to $15,000 per election.
Republican member Bob Slayton said while the move toward vote centers had been a “fairly long one,” very few have come forward to voice opposition over the last several months. There have been appearances, too, before the county commissioners, city council and county council, all of whom spoke favorably of the idea.
Shelton, too, said he’d had “zero written concerns or questions” sent to his own office.
The leader of the Libertarian Party, members said Monday, had previously expressed concern over people getting to and from the closest vote center should it be farther away than their usual precinct, but Shelton said he’s reached out to VanGo, which will provide free transportation to those who need it on Election Day.
The Vincennes Housing Authority, too, he said, has pledged its support in helping its residents should the need arise.
Webster said Bicknell Mayor Thomas Estabrook had expressed the desire to see vote centers added — and at least one was added from the original version of the plan — but he’s confident that, while the mayor’s concerns were valid — they have been, or will be, addressed.
“I believe we met those concerns with our plan and the way we will carry out elections,” Webster said.
Webster, too, said he has looked to other Indiana counties that have made the move to vote centers, and many of them have made small changes along the way, whether that be the move of a center to a new, more convenient location or the addition of more in the event that it becomes necessary.
And Knox County has already had experience with such change, he pointed out. Due to the pandemic — and even in the years before — there have been multiple changes to precinct locations, and voters seemed to largely take it in stride.
“We’ve been able to put up good signs to direct people,” he said. “And I think the advantage is that if somebody walks into voting place, they can vote there. We won’t have to tell them, ‘You’re at Precinct 1, and you have to be at 5,’ and then they have to walk back out to their car and drive over there.”
Long-time poll workers Angie and Terry Goff both attended the public hearing Monday to show their support toward vote centers, and Marsha Fleming, chair of the local Democratic Party, said during a recent meeting, members were overwhelmingly in support of the move.
One, she said, an elderly woman, had concerns, but Fleming, too, is confident that after one election with vote centers, they will be alleviated.
“It seems to be a fear that it will be inconvenient or that it will harm turnout,” Fleming said of the older generation. “But those fears have been addressed repeatedly from our local election officials, and the overwhelming majority of the population will find this more convenient.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting one cycle’s worth of data under everyone’s belt and deciding how our resources can, or should, be better allocated.”