Vote centers save taxpayers money, but the county hasn’t broken even yet on what was spent to switch to a new method of voting. But officials say the real payoff can’t be measured in dollars.
Johnson County made the switch from traditional precinct voting to countywide vote centers last year. The vote centers allow residents to cast ballots at any county polling site, instead of only in their assigned precinct. The change also comes with a cost savings because fewer poll workers and fewer voting sites are needed.
In order to make the switch, the county spent about $136,000 on new equipment, including electronic poll books and signature pads that weren’t required before the transition to vote centers. But officials expect the county to save more money each year, compared with what would have been spent on the old method of voting.
In the first year vote centers were used, the county spent about $60,000 less than in 2010 to pay poll workers and to buy their breakfast and lunch, according to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. And taxpayers are expected to save about $58,000 on elections in 2014, compared with what was spent in 2012.
Most of the savings comes from fewer workers needed to run the election. Instead of having about 500 people running the county’s 134 precincts in more than 70 locations, the county now needs fewer than 200 poll workers on Election Day.
How much spent could change in future years since the county has had only the 2012 primary and general elections using the vote centers. The county likely will continue to tweak factors that could change the costs, such as the number of early-voting sites and how long those are open, how many workers are assigned to each vote center and future equipment purchases. But last year, voters cast ballots in a presidential race, which brings the highest turnout. In future elections for local races, fewer vote centers may be needed, so costs would be less, Johnson County Clerk Sue Ann “Susie”
Equipment upgrades also will cost less, since the county will need to buy fewer voting machines. The county has 472 voting machines, which were purchased in the early 2000s, but would need to buy only about 250 when those machines must be replaced. That reduction in machines could save the county $1 million or more.
However, convenience for voters, not cost savings, is the main benefit and reason why the county decided to make the switch,
“When we started in on this, Jo Ann Stewart from Wayne County sat down with our election board and our committee and said, ‘If you go into this as cost savings only, you will not be successful. You need to go into it as you’re making it more convenient and accessible to the voter,’” Misiniec said.
In precinct voting, the county had to provide five workers for each precinct. Countywide elections, where all voters can cast ballots, required about 500 workers, and each was paid about $150 for the day. With vote centers, some sites could operate with five poll workers, but others needed more. In total, the county now needs fewer than 200 workers for an election, she said.
In 2010, the county spent $137,000 on poll workers, which dropped to $87,000 with vote centers in 2012.
“For us to go from 134 precincts and staffing those to 22 vote center locations, that was a wonderful thing, and it was a cost savings right off the top,” Misiniec said.
Having vote centers also allows the county to offer more opportunities to vote early, instead of having only one site at the courthouse before the election. Offering early-voting sites is convenient for voters but also adds to the cost because poll workers need to be paid. The county spent about $6,000 more in 2012 to pay poll workers for early voting, and Misiniec plans to increase that amount in 2014. She is increasing the amount she wants to spend on early-voting sites by about $6,000 but reducing the amount needed for Election Day workers by $40,000, she said.
For example, in 2014, poll workers could set up early-voting sites at the Franklin United Methodist Community, Indiana Masonic Home and Greenwood Village South retirement communities to give elderly residents the opportunity to vote early without having to travel to a vote center on Election Day, Misiniec said. Popular vote centers at places such as Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in Greenwood also might open on additional weekends, she said.
Those changes will slightly increase costs but will allow more people to cast ballots early and reduce lines on Election Day, which was a problem in the May 2012 primary. Voters were stuck in long lines because not enough voting machines were sent to each location. Those tweaks were made in November, and long lines shouldn’t be a problem during 2014 elections, she said.
“Now that we’re in it, I don’t see that anyone would want to go backwards. People overall like it,” she said.