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Decision time: Early voting set to start

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If you want to be one of the first people to cast your ballot for the primary election, get to the courthouse tomorrow.

Early voting is beginning, and voters will cast their ballots in seven contested races among Republicans and one three-way race on the Democratic ticket. When you show up to vote, expect to see two pieces of new technology that might save you a little time getting in and out.

The county will use new barcode scanners and electronic signature pads at all of its voting sites for the first time. The scanners will read the code on your driver’s license or state ID and automatically pull up your voter registration, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne Misiniec said. When you sign in on the new electronic pads — similar to what you’d find in a checkout line at the grocery store — it will upload your signature into the poll book.

Those two new pieces of equipment will save you time because poll workers won’t have to look up your information or print forms for you to sign.

Voters have to decide whether they want to vote on a Republican or Democratic ballot. The Republican ballot contains more contested positions, including races for two county council seats, a new judge, county auditor and recorder and two township trustees. The Democratic ballot has one contested race for the U.S. Representative District 9 seat.

Voters can cast ballots every weekday until the May 6 primary, and several other polling sites will be open on the two weekends and week before the election. Election board members reduced the amount of sites and days those locations will be open this year because they’re expecting a lower turnout, so you may not be able to cast your vote in the same place you did in 2012.

The new technology and a new early voting schedule are being tested this year after the county switched to vote centers in 2012. Since this is the first non-presidential election with vote centers, officials are trying to gauge how many sites and staff will be needed for early voting and Election Day in the fall. If the new technology doesn’t work correctly or more voters show up to cast ballots than expected and have to wait in long lines, the county can make tweaks to fix those issues before the general election this fall, Misiniec said.

“That’s the beauty of the vote center system and the plan, that you have that flexibility because then you can do what you feel is right for your voters,” she said.

Voters may run into a few bugs with the new technology that is being used for the first time, voter registration clerk Reagan Higdon said.

The scanners aren’t perfect at pulling up your unique registration on the first try, and staff are already aware of some issues. For example, if the name on your license and voter registration is different, the scan won’t pull up your file. Or if there are multiple people with the same name as you, such as John Smith, the scan will pull up all those registrations and poll workers will have to verify your birthday and address, Higdon said.

If the scanner doesn’t work, poll workers can type in your name to look for your address just like they would have in 2012 to find your registration, so there shouldn’t be any instances where people can’t vote, Higdon said. When the scanners do work the right way, it saves time for poll workers and will allow more people to vote faster, she said.

Voters will be able to vote at other sites before Election Day if they can’t make it to the courthouse on weekdays. The courthouse and three additional sites will also be open on the two Saturday prior to Election Day. The week before the election, polling sites will be set up for one day at each of the three large retirement communities in the county as well as five other locations from April 30 to May 2.

Polling sites at the retirement centers will allow the residents who live there easier access to voting than in 2012, when they had to travel to a nearby vote center, Misiniec said. But early voting won’t be available at the White River Township Trustee’s office or Turning Point Church in Franklin this year, because of the changes.

“It’s just a judgment call on our part as far as voter turnout. I hope we have a landslide and we’ll need to take extra machines and extra people,” Misiniec said.

About 3,600 people voted early in the 2012 primary, which was about 15 percent of all votes cast for that election, and officials are expecting fewer voters this year.

The county has to spend about $520 per day to pay for staff for an early voting site, so having fewer sites open for fewer days will add up to about $7,800 in savings compared to what was spent in 2012.

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