By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
— The Howard County Election Board delayed a vote on the implementation of vote centers in time for the 2014 election for two weeks.
The Election Board conducted a public hearing Wednesday at the Howard County Administration Center in which local residents questioned whether state law was being followed.
At issue was whether or not the election board allowed for public comment 30 days after the initial hearing and had actually conducted two public meetings.
State law requires that the number of Vote Centers and the location of the centers be designated in the draft plan and the type of equipment to be used.
After taking public comments, the Election Board adjourned with the intent of conducting a vote within the next two weeks at a date and time to be announced.
The board will accept additional comments for and against the Vote Center concept prior to the vote.
Kim Wilson, Howard County Clerk, said the first public meeting on the draft Vote Center plan was conducted last June. She said the meeting Wednesday was the second public hearing.
“I don’t accept your explanation,” Evan Yoder said. “The public has the right to expect disclosure.”
She said county attorney Larry Murrell gave her some early advice on meetings. Wilson said Murrell attended the meetings when the Howard County Commissioners and Howard County Council voiced support for the concept.
The legislation being cited concerning the procedure expired on Dec. 31, 2010 and was replaced by new Indiana laws concerning Vote Centers.
Wilson said the intent is to have up to ten vote centers open for county wide elections in the future, but the locations have not been determined. She said the equipment has to be purchased through a bidding process.
“We have a plan,” she said. “We’ll start with ten vote centers and the number can be adjusted.”
As required by state law, Howard County would implement electronic poll books and electronic voting if the vote center concept is adopted.
Yoder said by going to vote centers doesn’t require electronic voting and the current machines could be used. Several residents wanted to maintain paper ballots.
Wilson said the county spends $140,000 per year to print ballots with the majority thrown out following an election.
The proposal is for five vote centers to be open for early voting and to have 10 centers operating on election day.
The early voting centers could be located in the four corners of Kokomo and the courthouse, Wilson said. They would be open for three days prior to an election and the courthouse would be open 28 days before election day.
There would be vote centers on election day in both Greentown and Russiaville.
Wilson said the county would save $310,132 over a four-year span which would include three election cycles.
“The estimated cost of the equipment is $300,000 or less,” she said. “After the first three elections the county would realize the savings.”
Wilson said the county would be required to purchase electronic poll books and electronic voting machines for each center. She said there would still be a need for paper ballots for mail-in ballots and for people voting confined.
The electronic poll books would cost approximately $1,000 and the electronic voting machines $2,000.