With 2 months until primary, an update on new equipment, voting options

In about a month, Johnson County voters can start making their selections for county officials, state lawmakers and national leaders who they want to represent their party in the general election.

Early voting kicks off April 7 at the Johnson County courthouse. Four additional vote centers will be open on the two Saturdays before Election Day, and the entire week leading up to it, from April 27 to May 1.

Democrat and Republican voters have choices to make at the state and federal levels when they head to the polls this spring, including choosing their party’s presidential candidate. Republicans also have decisions to make in two local races, Johnson County Council at-large and Johnson County Commissioner, District 1.

Local election officials are ahead of schedule and hoping for another smooth election, said Trena McLaughlin, county clerk.

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The Election Board last month approved 22 vote centers for this year’s primary election, up from 19 during the last election, as well as times and locations where voters can cast their ballots early. This year, because it is a presidential election, voters will have a full month of early voting options ahead of Election Day May 5.

New vote centers this year include the Greenwood Public Library and Bargersville Fire Station No. 1.

All 350 voting machines, most of which the county bought from new central Indiana vendor MicroVote for $1.5 million, have been delivered; the county is renting 30 of those from its vendor in anticipation of a large voter turnout this year.

McLaughlin is predicting a 30% voter turnout during this year’s primary, she said.

Presidential elections typically draw more voters to the polls. During the last presidential election, about 40% of the county’s registered voters cast ballots during the primary, and 63% voted in the general election. In November, voter turnout was more than double what county election officials predicted. More than 16% of registered voters cast ballots, up from 9.7% during the last comparable election in 2015.

And in 2018, 50% of voters cast ballots during the General Election, and that number would have been higher had the election equipment worked properly. That’s compared to only 23% during the last midterm election in 2014. Election officials expect an even higher turnout this year due to surprisingly high turnouts during the last two general elections.

Election officials were proofing and finalizing primary ballots this week, McLaughlin said. Once that’s finished, she expects the new machines will be programmed and ready to go as early as next week, she said Tuesday. A public test of the new equipment is scheduled for March 25.

Voters will make their selections on the all new voting equipment, and those who do vote early will also test out a new system which includes a paper trail. Election officials have decided to not use the VVPAT — Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail — on Election Day until they can work out any kinks that may arise during early voting, when polls aren’t as busy. It is the newest system MicroVote has to offer, and was certified by the state last July.

“We want to try them out and let our poll workers get used to them before we use them on an Election Day,” McLaughlin said.

With the VVPAT, early voters will be able to review their selections on paper before submitting it and watching the machine collect it, she said.

Although there won’t be as many vote centers as election officials would have liked, there will be plenty of machines and opportunities to vote, McLaughlin said.

“We’ll be open 30 days prior to the election at the courthouse. We felt like, for a primary, that was enough time given,” McLaughlin said. “We want people to vote early. Thirty days — that gives voters ample time.”

Initially, McLaughlin, the county’s top election official, wanted to open at least 24 vote centers this year, but landed on 22, three more than were used during the last election. They will instead set up additional machines at two of the county’s most popular vote centers on the north side — The Nest and Mount Pleasant Christian Church, both in Greenwood. In January, she pushed for more voting equipment, and the county decided to rent 30 machines in addition to the 320 they had just bought.

McLaughlin and her staff were still working to determine how many machines each polling place will have on Tuesday, she said.

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Here is a look at when and where you can cast your ballot early:

Johnson County courthouse, 5 E. Jefferson St., Franklin

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting April 7;

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 25 and May 2;

8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. May 4.

Trafalgar Public Library, 424 S. Tower St., Trafalgar

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 25 and May 2;

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27-May 1.

Greenwood Public Library, 310 S. Meridian St., Greenwood (east door)

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 25 and May 2;

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27-May 1.

John R. Drybread Community Center, 100 E. Main Cross St., Edinburgh

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 25 and May 2;

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27-May 1.

White River Public Library, 1664 Library Blvd., Greenwood

8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 25 and May 2;

10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 25-May 1.

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What: Public test of county’s new voting machines

When: 10 a.m. March 25

Where: Voter Registration, lower level of the Johnson County courthouse, 5 E. Jefferson St., Franklin

Why: To make sure voting machines are in working order, as required by law