Wilson County Administrator of Elections Phillip Warren announced Monday his organization is advocating vote centers to create sustainable tax-dollar savings during elections.
"The procedures and process changes we implemented over the past two years have resulted in saving tax money," Warren said. "We realize the need to find ways to further reduce the expense of elections in ways that can be sustained for future elections while ensuring the integrity of the election and enhancing the quality of the voting experience."
The Wilson County Election Commission would like to implement vote centers for the 2014 election cycle. But the change would have to be approved by the state legislature.
"We would continue using the four early voting sites and add six election day vote centers," he said. "Lebanon and Mt. Juliet would be open for the entire early voting period, while Watertown and Gladeville would be open for the last week of early voting. The four early voting sites, in addition to the six vote centers, would be open on Election Day."
Warren said all 10 vote centers would allow the same convenience for voters as the early voting sites offer — anyone could vote at any vote center regardless of where they live. Under the existing system, Wilson County has four early voting sites, along with 33 Election Day voting precincts. The idea is to make voting easier for voters and for election workers by cutting down on the Election Day rush.
What is a Vote Center?
• A strategically located polling place where any Wilson County registered voter can go vote. They would be able to cast their ballot at any location- just like Early Voting.
• Every precinct ballot is available at every vote center location.
• When a voter signs in at one vote center, every other vote center’s computer is automatically updated to reflect that voter as having cast their ballot.
Warren said vote centers would make voting easier and encourage more people to cast their ballots.
According to Warren voter centers would:
• Allow voters to vote at any voter center location regardless of where they live.
• Would be more convenient for voters by allowing them to choose which day and where they would like to vote. Under a vote center concept, voters would be allowed to vote at any one of the vote center locations on Election Day.
• Make voting an easier process for the voter because the use of computers makes the process easier.
"Currently, if a voter has a different address than we have on their voter registration record, they must complete a fail safe form and go to the correct precinct in order to vote," Warren said. "With vote centers, their address can be updated on the computer just like it is with our current Early Voting system at any of the Vote Center locations. All locations would be connected to our current voter registration system. This also eliminates any voter from potentially voting more than once since their record would show 'voted' after they vote at any vote center location."
Warren also said using voter centers would reduce the cost of conducting the election.
"Based on poll worker requirements alone we project a cost savings of $20,000 per election. In the 2012 election cycle, Wilson County would have saved about $60,000," he said. "There will be additional savings in supplies, labor, materials, etc. It is already in the budget, so it wouldn't require a budget increase and over time would lead to a budget decrease."
They would also make the process of reconciliation quicker and cheaper, Warren said. Every election, the election commission must reconcile the ballots cast with the voter registration roles.
"As voting occurs, reconciliation would be complete except for provisional voters," Warren said. "This would cut costs dramatically. Under the current system, three deputies worked on reconciling for 14 days at a cost of about $3,600 per election. An additional $3,600 was spent on updating all fail safe and address changes for the November 2012 election. This would have produced a savings of $7,200 just for the November 2012 election."
The change to voter centers could also increase voter turnout, Warren said. He said studies have shown that there are modest increases among those voters who are young and/or do not have a regular habit of voting yet.
"We proved in November 2012 that with a well-planned approach early voting numbers will increase. 61.8 percent of the turnout in November 2012 occurred during early voting," Warren said.
Voter centers would also allow the election commission to utilize voting equipment more efficiently since the Help American Vote Act required each state to implement a statewide voter registration system, all vote centers can be networked to allow voters to vote at any location while recording their vote and preventing them from voting at another location. By utilizing current technology, phone calls would be greatly reduced and the number of fail safe procedures would be greatly reduced.
Warren also said using voting centers would increase efficiency because not all precincts have equal numbers of voters. Therefore, a precinct with 165 voters may be looking for something to do with their time on Election Day while a precinct with 3,800 people may have lines of voters all day. With Vote Centers, it is likely that all locations would be somewhat consistent in the number of voters participating at each location.
Warren said that election centers are a good fit for Wilson County.
"Early voting has proven to be very successful in our county with the majority of votes cast during that period. A significant increase over 2008," Warren said. "We had a promotion plan, which led to this success. The promotion of vote centers would be an integral part of its success also. Promotion included radio, newspaper, brochures, direct mailing, speaking engagements, social media and our website."
He said the money saved makes the idea a sound one.
On Election Day, Wilson County utilized 305 poll workers. With vote centers, that number would be reduced substantially with 10 vote centers, it would be staffed with 10 poll workers each with a total of 100. With a difference of 205 poll workers at $125 each, it is a savings of $25,625 just on poll workers alone," he said. "Additional savings would come from fewer supplies and less labor to prepare Election Day materials."
He said the election commission works with an "excellent" computer company what can link the systems and that security measures are in place in case of an emergency situation such as a power outage. Warren said the election commission has good relationships with entities that would need to be involved in the transition so everything should be up and running before the 2014 elections.
Warren said the transition would not be without its challenges, including more voters per location needing more parking; the increase in voters possibly leading to the need for more voting machines and poll workers; the need for new training materials; and a public information campaign to inform voters of the changers.
"Each voter would be mailed information with all of the vote center locations, photo ID info, etc.," Warren said." complete marketing and promotional plan would be implemented well in advance of the 2014 elections."
Warren sees the potential change as a win-win for voter turn out and for taxpayers.
"If you're having fun and saving money, you can't beat that," Warren said.