The experiment by the state in Tippecanoe, Cass and Wayne counties to establish centralized voting centers at which people can cast their ballots regardless of their precincts expired at the end of 2010. But the good news is that the Senate Elections Committee is considering a bill that would continue the centers and also allow all 92 counties to establish the centers if they choose to. The bill deserves to be passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
There isn't overwhelming evidence that the centers increase voter participation. But they do make voting easy for many voters by allowing people to cast their ballots in high-traffic areas they probably already encounter. When that is combined with early voting (another good idea), it gives residents every opportunity to participate. Such opportunity should be welcomed, even if a lot of people don't take advantage of it.
Another good reason for the centers is that they will save counties money by requiring fewer campaign workers to staff fewer polling places. Tippecanoe County officials estimate they saved $40,000 in 2008 by participating in the pilot program. An analysis by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute estimates all counties would save money (more than $100,000 here in Allen County alone). And as a practical matter, it's also just getting harder to recruit enough people to staff precinct voting sites.
To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about centralized voting. One is that they will hurt those lacking the means or ability to travel who are now used to voting close by their homes. Another is that removing the process from the precinct level will take away an important part of party workers' political identity.
Those concerns can be addressed at the local level. Counties don't even have to participate if they want to keep things the way they are. Counties very spread out geographically, such as Allen, might have doubts, for example. More compact counties might find centralized centers more useful.
Before they go too much further, legislators favoring the centers should sit down for a discussion with Gov. Daniels.
A bill that would have expanded the use of centralized voting made it out of the General Assembly, but the governor vetoed it. He said it did not contain sufficient safeguards against fraud and abuse and removed “long-standing bipartisan checks and balances in the conduct of elections.” He didn't elaborate on which parts of the bill bothered him, so legislators might want to ask him to.