With the County Election Board’s approval Monday, vote centers will be a part of Kosciusko’s landscape beginning with the 2022 elections.

The voter center concept gives any voter in Kosciusko County the opportunity to cast their ballot at any polling location throughout the county; no one is restricted to one polling location on Election Day. A public meeting on the plan was held July 22.

At Monday’s public County Election Board meeting, a woman said her and her husband’s concern would be “how do you reconcile if somebody were to vote here and vote there and vote there? How do you reconcile that?”

County Clerk Ann Torpy explained that the iPads are connected to each vote center. As soon as a person votes at one vote center, that information that they voted is sent out to all the vote centers.

“Even if it failed to do so, Ann would know from the follow-up that somebody had voted more than once, and that’s a felony, so that would be referred to the prosecutor’s (office),” Election Board member Bill Morton said.

Torpy said the vote center plan is on the county website at kcgov.com.

With no amendments to the plan, and with the Election Board’s approval, the vote centers go into effect. Torpy said it will be sent to the Indiana Election Division.

“We’ve closed two voting places from the past. They’re smaller locations that, really at the time, probably were unnecessary to have ... I’m not sure we just used them just because we always have,” Torpy said. She said they were closed because they were smaller locations that have plenty of opportunity around them to go to another location. “But most of all of our polling locations have stayed the same for now.”

Randy Girod, Election Board member, shared two positive phone calls he received from people who were excited about the vote centers.

Torpy said some people have asked why Kosciusko County didn’t go to vote centers since some surrounding counties have. She listed neighboring counties using vote centers as Elkhart, St. Joe and Marshall. Girod said Noble County is in the process. The Indiana Election Division website has a listing for every vote center in the state, Morton said.

There will be 21 vote centers in Kosciusko County. Anyone living in Kosciusko County will be able to vote at any vote center in Kosciusko County.

Torpy wasn’t sure yet if that would result in a higher number of voters.

“I think in the first year, most people will not be familiar or comfortable with it so they’ll stick to what they know,” she said. “But, hopefully, the more we utilize this plan, and as each election continues, they’ll venture out more to where their work is or they’ll be able to find the convenience of it.”

The voting machines are purchased by the county through MicroVote General Corp. Torpy said, according to MicroVote, typically the first few years the voting still stays where people are comfortable.

By going to vote centers, the county also saves money in the long run.

“Because we’ll use fewer poll workers. Typically, a polling location has five poll workers. And when we had 38 polling locations, we actually had 61 poll boards, and now we’re down to 21. That’s a big decrease in that. So we’ll save money just on poll workers alone,” Torpy said.

As for early voting, there will be a satellite early voting location. For the first year, Torpy said that “for the two Saturdays we are open, we will have a location in North Webster for voters up in that northern corner, because that’s usually the majority of our – I feel like Warsaw and Syracuse, North Webster area are our larger absentee voters. So now they have a place closer instead of driving to Warsaw to vote early. They can go up to North Webster, and then we’ll see how well that goes the first year, and then we may expand it further.”

Asked how soon any changes to the vote centers might take place, Torpy said she wasn’t sure. “I kind of feel like we should go through an election cycle,” she said.

“Or two,” Girod said.

Torpy said, for her, an election cycle is three years because that includes a presidential election. The next election cycle would include 2022, 2023 and 2024. After each election, she said they discuss how the election went anyway, but for now she doesn’t see reducing the number of polling locations from 21.

“Legally, by state law, we only have to have five or six vote centers based on the registered voter population, which that is just not feasible now. I think we’re just starting out larger now,” Torpy said.

Going to vote centers is the biggest election change in Kosciusko County since the county went to the electronic voting machines in 2006, Torpy said. That was a result of the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore and “hanging chads.”

While there may seem to be a lot of changes, the Election Board agreed the changes will make voting simple.

“It just makes it more accessible, (that’s) the bottom line,” Girod said.

In 2017, Torpy said, the county’s voting machines were updated with the software inside and the firmware to allow all 69 Kosciusko County precincts on one machine. That was the first step. Then in 2020, the county went to ePoll Books, which was the second step. “And now this is our final step to get to a vote center,” she said.

With the 2020 Census completed, election districts are being reconfigured this year at the national, state and local level. The deadline for Torpy to submit any changes for local districts is Oct. 15 to the Secretary of State’s Office “for them to work with me to approve the changes before the election. As of right now, the only thing I was planning on, especially now that we’re vote centers, is to just make sure the County Council and County Commissioners districts are balanced.”

Precinct lines have to line up with the Census district lines. Torpy said some of the precinct lines may need adjusting. The Commissioners and Council are responsible for balancing their lines, in cooperation with Torpy. They also work with the GIS department to make sure the precinct lines do line up.

“We work with the Secretary of State’s Office. They have a group of people who work with us on redistricting every 10 years, and precinct lines every year if we need to make changes. So they send us the maps of the Census boundary lines, and we overlay ours to make sure they’re right,” Torpy explained.

The 2022 primary local election will include prosecuting attorney, auditor, recorder, sheriff, assessor, southern district commissioner; County Council districts 1, 2, 3 and 4; township trustees; township advisory boards; Milford town offices, Syracuse Town Council districts 1 and 2; Winona Lake Town Council districts 3 and 5; Democrat precinct committeemen; and state convention delegates, according to the county’s website. There also will be Congressional races.

Morton made the motion to adopt the draft plan of the vote centers, with Girod seconding it. With Torpy in favor of it, the plan was approved.