Johnson County voters headed to new vote centers for the first time in a general election Tuesday and often faced long lines.
Vote centers allow voters to cast ballots at any of 22 sites across the county, instead of going to the same polling place near their home every year. Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne “Susie” Misiniec said the vote centers mostly worked smoothly Tuesday but had a few minor glitches, such as frozen machines or lost internet connections.
Residents, however, often waited for half an hour and sometimes stood in line for an hour or more at the vote centers. The voting sites in the northern part of the county had to stay open for at least an extra hour after the polls were supposed to close at 6 p.m. because of the people waiting in line, deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.
Voters expect lines during presidential elections, and the waits in Johnson County were nothing out of the ordinary, Misiniec said.
“You’re going to have a huge turnout in a presidential election,” she said.
But the clerk’s office will try to cut down on the waiting time in future elections by continuing to encourage residents to vote before Election Day, potentially opening more sites for early voting and introducing new technology that would allow poll workers to instantly identify voters by swiping the bar code on the back of their driver’s licenses, Misiniec said.
The clerk’s office also will do more training with poll workers so they move voters through the lines more quickly, Misiniec said. Poll workers were used to the lower primary turnout and in some cases got flustered when much longer lines formed Tuesday, she said.
Voting machines were often empty while the poll workers checked voters in, Misiniec said. The machines often looked as though they were out of commission, but the lines were just bottlenecked at the check-in point, she said.
“It can be overwhelming when you’ve got a crowd of people to work through,” she said. “You’d naturally rush and panic, but the clerks will have to speed that up a little. We’re going to address that with additional training.”
The clerk’s office also will review whether more poll workers or electronic poll books would be needed at any of the vote centers, but Misiniec said she didn’t know if that would make a difference in wait times.
Hundreds of voters lined up in many popular vote centers such as at Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria, the Greenwood Community Center and Mount Pleasant Christian Church. The lines were an issue for people who were trying to get to work and for elderly or disabled residents who can’t stand in line for long periods of time.
Voters had the opportunity to vote early or by mail, Misiniec said. The clerk’s office will try to cut down on Election Day lines by encouraging more people to vote early, such as by opening a vote center in eastern Greenwood on Saturdays before Election Day, so everyone from the northern part of the county isn’t crowding the vote center at Mount Pleasant Christian Church.
“We’re sorry for any waits, but people have the opportunity to avoid the lines by voting early anytime between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.,” she said. “The more who vote early, the shorter the lines on Election Day.”
The clerk’s office also will investigate whether to open vote centers during early voting at retirement communities where a lot of residents vote. For instance, opening a vote center for two days at the Indiana Masonic Home in Franklin could shift more of the turnout away from Election Day.
Johnson County first used the vote centers in May for the primary and got complaints about long lines. Some residents had to wait more than an hour before voting at the White River Township library, and some voters left before casting their ballot.
The clerk’s office added three more vote centers in anticipation of greater turnout and longer lines this fall. They added more poll workers and machines, with the busiest vote centers getting 25 machines.
Misiniec said the vote centers were a success during early voting, and she hopes that more people will vote early as they get more used to vote centers. She said growing acceptance of the switch to vote centers helped increase turnout during the period of early voting, and a record-setting 21,000 Johnson County residents cast ballots before Election Day.
Residents could vote early at the courthouse and seven additional sites, and vote centers in Trafalgar and the Center Grove area also were open for the two Saturday before Election Day.