Outgoing Johnson County Clerk Sue Ann Misiniec wants to form a committee to study vote center locations before the 2020 presidential election, because the county is not equipped to handle the expected voter surge, she said.
More than half of the 52,220 Johnson County residents who voted in this year’s election did so on Election Day, when a technical glitch with the county’s electronic poll books bogged down the system, leaving voters either waiting in long lines or not voting at all.
It was a widespread problem that, so far, hasn’t resulted in any changes to the system, only apologies from the county and its vendor.
The question now is whether any other elements, such as the locations and number of vote centers, played a role in the Election Day kerfuffle that had officials and ES&amp;S scrambling on Election Day and apologizing in the five weeks since.
"We’re going to work on that diligently. We know we’re going to have to add some (vote centers), especially in the northern parts of the county," Misiniec said.
While adding vote centers might cut down on the lines voters face, it would not address the technical problems that brought voting to a standstill for up to three hours on Election Day.
Most complaints of long waits came from vote centers in Greenwood, where the brunt of the county’s population is, and where half of the county’s vote centers are located. Because a lot more people voted at those locations, it took longer for poll workers to get them through the lines when the system slowed down or stopped working completely, a problem caused by ES&amp;S.
On Election Day, 2,446 people cast ballots at Mt. Pleasant Christian Church, 381 N. Bluff Road, Greenwood, which had a greater turnout than any other vote center in the county. White River Public Library, 1664 Library Blvd., Greenwood, and The Nest, 100 Byrd Way, Greenwood, also had more than 2,000 voters cast ballots.
Just three miles down the road — or a 7 minute drive — from The Nest, the vote center at Rocklane Christian Church, 4430 Rockland Road, had 1,000 fewer voters, meaning wait times, even during the slow down, would have been much shorter.
The White River Township Trustee’s Office, 2929 S. Morgantown Road, voted 1,170 fewer people. The trustee’s office is also close to the White River Branch of the Johnson County Public Library, another heavily trafficked vote center.
A lot of voters go to a vote center they are accustomed to, Misiniec said.
On Election Day, several chose to wait in an hour-long line at Grace United Methodist Church knowing there was no line at Johnson Memorial Hospital, less than three miles away, because that’s where they’ve always voted, they said.
Fewer people vote at vote centers located on the south side of the county, in Edinburgh, Nineveh and Trafalgar, because fewer people live in those areas. Less than 700 voters cast ballots at the Edinburgh Public Library on Election Day, and 725 at Prince’s Lakes Town Hall.
In 2012, the county made the switch to countywide vote centers from traditional precinct voting to save money. Vote centers allow residents to cast ballots at any county polling site, instead of only in their assigned precinct.
The county spent about $136,000 on new equipment, including e-poll books and signature pads that weren’t required before the transition, to make the switch. Officials expected the county would save more money each year, compared with what would have been spent on the old voting method.
Early voting has been an option for much longer.
Early voting popularity continues to soar statewide. In 2014, 16 percent of voters cast a ballot early. This year, that number was doubled to 32 percent, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.
Because of that, county officials are also considering opening more vote centers prior to Election Day, which they hope will encourage even more people to vote early and limit long lines on Election Day. This year, early voting was available at five locations, two of which were in Greenwood.
It all depends on how many vote centers are willing to open early. Some can’t, Misiniec said. That decision is up to the facilities’ managers, not the county.
"We’re kind of the beggars here, but we do have options," she said.
There is no limit on the number of vote centers a county can operate. The only requirement is that there be one for every 10,000 residents, which Johnson County well exceeds, she said.
Johnson County’s voter turnout this fall, at 50 percent, exceeded its typical performance, but fell short compared to some surrounding central Indiana counties, according to data released by the Secretary of State’s office.
Brown County had 61 percent voter turnout; Hendricks had 56 percent; Hancock had 55 percent; Monroe had 54 percent; Bartholomew had 53 percent; Shelby had 51 percent. In Marion County, 48 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
Fifty-one percent of Indiana residents voted on or before Nov. 6.
“This is the highest midterm turnout in over two decades,” Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a news release. “The last time we saw a midterm with turnout in the 50s was in 1994. Both of these election cycles highlight how candidates and issues drive higher turnout in elections.”
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Here is a look at how many people voted on Election Day at each Johnson County vote center:
Amity Volunteer Fire Department; 839
Bargersville Town Hall; 1,138
Community Church of Greenwood; 1,823
Edinburgh Public Library; 682
Franklin Fire Station No. 23; 941
Grace Assembly of God; 1,091
Grace United Methodist Church; 1,061
Gracepoint Church; 1,307
Greenwood Christian Church; 1,801
Johnson Memorial Hospital; 1,133
Mt. Auburn Methodist Church; 1,674
Mt. Pleasant Christian Church; 2,446
Prince’s Lake Town Hall; 725
Rocklane Christian Church; 1,195
The Nest; 2,168
Trafalgar Public Library; 1,182
Vineyard Community Church; 1,786
White River Public Library; 2,354
White River Township Trustee; 1,276
Total on Election Day; 28,012