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Editorial: Payoff takes investment in county voting centers

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The race is on to find voting locations and organize a plan to change the way local voters have been casting their ballots for decades.

For the May 8 primary, election officials plan to implement vote centers, which allow voters to cast their ballots at any of a handful of voting sites across the county.

That change will reduce the number of voting sites and poll workers needed by more than half and is expected to save the county money long term.

In the most recent countywide election, the county used 73 polling sites based on where people live. That number was going to grow since the county recently added 27 new precincts because of population growth. Now, the county will have 20 places where any local voter can cast a ballot.

And instead of hiring more than 500 poll workers, the county will need fewer than half that number.

But first, the county plans to spend as much as $150,000 on the equipment and technology needed to use electronic poll books required by state law so no one can vote more than once.

Many of the details are being worked out, but officials are setting a timeline for when to make those decisions.

By the end of this month, officials should have a detailed plan of how vote centers will work, including the number of polling sites, the locations, the number of poll workers and how they will work to try to avoid long lines on Election Day, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne “Susie” Misiniec said.

The county has contacted sites to talk about whether they are open to the idea of having potentially thousands of voters come there. Most places have agreed, but some have raised concerns about how many people would be coming on Election Day, an answer officials can’t be sure of, Misiniec said.

Those locations include churches, libraries, community centers and possibly some businesses, such as Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria. Now, officials are visiting the sites to make sure they have what is needed for Election Day, including parking, Internet access and handicap accessible buildings.

Each voting site will have at least five workers, just like all precincts did in the past, but more likely will be needed based on the number of voters expected. Misiniec also plans on training extra workers so that she can have more people on stand-by on Election Day if they are needed, she said.

Still, she is expecting to need far fewer than the 535 workers the county has had to hire for countywide elections in past years, she said.

Vote centers are expected to save money long term, with the county needing to hire fewer workers for each election and buy fewer voting machines in the future when they need to be replaced.

But switching to vote centers does have costs, including sending out notifications to all voters that where they cast their ballot has changed, making sure all polling sites have the equipment needed to access the Internet, such as a router, and the electronic poll books required by state law for vote centers.

The deadline for voter registration for the primary is the close of business on April 9. Don’t lose out on the chance to participate by failing to register.

Also, go the extra step and obtain a valid government photo ID, so you won’t be turned away at the polls.

Finally, potential voters need to pay attention as the county rolls out details on polling places. The change from neighborhood sites to voting centers is significant but shouldn’t be traumatic if voters are prepared.

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