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Shorter vote lines in works

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Voter Patricia Predam, Greenwood is checked-in by Connie Kleyn-Siebenthal at the Greenwood Community Center. PHOTO BY JOSHUA MARSHALL
Voter Patricia Predam, Greenwood is checked-in by Connie Kleyn-Siebenthal at the Greenwood Community Center. PHOTO BY JOSHUA MARSHALL

About one in every three Johnson County residents who voted in the fall election cast their ballots early, and even more people are expected to choose that option now that they can go to vote centers across the county.

Voters don’t have to wait in long lines on Election Day the way they did at the Greenwood Community Center, the White River Township library and other popular sites Tuesday, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne “Susie” Misiniec said. They can instead vote early in the days and weeks before the election.

As a solution to the long lines, Misiniec said she will continue to encourage voters to cast ballots before Election Day.

About 21,000 of the 57,949 Johnson County voters who cast ballots this year voted early, marking a significant increase in early voting. About 11 percent of ballots cast were before Election Day during the last presidential election in 2008.

Over time, even more people are likely to vote early once they get used to vote centers that allow them to vote at any polling site anywhere in the county instead of a designated site close to home, Misiniec said. The clerk’s office also will continue to encourage people to take advantage of early voting, look into expanding early-voting options and make adjustments with vote centers so they work more efficiently.

Voters had to wait at popular polling sites such as the Greenwood Community Center and Greenwood Christian Church, where more than 3,000 people cast ballots. More than 2,000 voters cast ballots at other busy sites, including the Clark Pleasant library, the White River Township trustee’s office and Mount Auburn United Methodist Church.

Fewer than 500 people voted at less crowded sites in the southern part of the county, including American Legion Post 233 in Edinburgh, Fair Haven Christian Church near Trafalgar and the Amity Fire Station.

Misiniec and other county officials plan to review what happened Tuesday and try to determine if they can make any improvements for future elections. For example, the clerk’s office will investigate whether to expand early voting.

In future elections, you also should be able to vote after poll workers scan the bar code on your driver’s license to get you checked in instantly. You won’t have to wait as long for the poll worker to type in your name and find your precinct.

“What’s nice about vote centers is that we can make whatever improvements are needed,” deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.

Johnson County voters often had to wait a half-hour or more Tuesday, when hundreds of people stood in line to vote at Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in Greenwood and other popular sites in the northern part of the county. Whiteland resident Stu Ramali said the lines moved fairly quickly given the heavy turnout.

A line stretched all the way through the Greenwood Community Center, spilling onto the basketball courts. Vote centers had to stay open an hour after the normal closing time because of the large number of people who were lined up to vote at 6 p.m.

A few people left without voting because they had to get to work or couldn’t physically endure that wait because of age or disability. Greenwood resident Martha Bandy didn’t vote after going to Jonathan Byrd’s and the Greenwood Christian Church because she was told that the wait would be about 90 minutes and she couldn’t stand that long.

Long lines and extended waits to vote were an issue nationally. President Barack Obama even mentioned fixing the long lines in his acceptance speech.

Johnson County voters also had to wait in line during the May primary election, when vote centers were introduced in the county. About a quarter of the county’s registered voters cast ballots, but lines often stretched out the door, and the wait lasted an hour or more.

Polling sites didn’t have enough voting machines to handle turnout that was higher than expected, Misiniec said. The clerk’s office adjusted by adding machines.

Instead of having six to 14 voting machines per site, vote centers had 20 to 25 machines on Tuesday. Most vote centers had more than enough machines, and they often were unused over the course of the day because polls workers couldn’t check in voters fast enough, Misiniec said.

Poll workers will get extra training so they won’t be flustered when the line stretches out the door, she said.

Johnson County also has the technology to make the check-in process go faster. The county has scanners that will let poll workers check voters in by swiping their driver’s licenses, cutting down on the time needed to look them up to make sure they’re registered and then to find the right ballot for them.

Misiniec said she didn’t want to use the scanners for the first time during the presidential election Tuesday in case any glitches need to be worked out.

The county already has the equipment, and poll workers should start using the scanners in future elections.

The clerk’s office also will look at adding more early-voting options, Misiniec said.

Crowds descended on Mount Pleasant Christian Church in the Center Grove area the Saturday before the election, and the county potentially could shorten the line by opening another vote center in the area on that day, Misiniec said.

People from the northern part of the county might not be willing to drive south to Franklin to vote, Misiniec said. But they might drive to Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria instead of Mount Pleasant if given the option, and the lines would get shorter, she said.

Vote centers also could be added at retirement communities, where residents typically are likely to vote, Misiniec said.

The Indiana Masonic Home and Franklin United Methodist Community don’t have a lot of parking for the general public and might not be good sites for Election Day. But the county could look at opening vote centers for a day or two at those retirement communities during the early-voting period, Misiniec said.

That way, many of those residents could vote early and wouldn’t add to already long lines on Election Day. Other voters could also go to vote at those sites.

“You can vote early at different vote centers between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.,” Misiniec said. “We’re trying to make it as available as possible for everyone.”

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