Starke County Election Board Debates Forming Study Committee to Research Vote Centers

The Starke County Election Board continues discussing the possibility of switching to vote centers, but what the next steps should be was a topic of debate during last week’s meeting.

Dan Bridegroom, serving as a proxy for board member Harrison Fields, spoke in favor of forming a study committee.

“We’re only three people,” Bridegroom said. “Who are we to say ‘This is how you’re going to vote from now on?’ By forming the committee, you will bring in people, say whoever’s the head of the fire department, the mayor, the head of the council of North Judson or Hamlet, their council members, to come in, get some people who talk to their people more than we see their people.” Bridegroom felt the committee would help Starke County voters buy in to any change, and help the county figure out whether it should make the switch at all.

But Clerk Bernadette Welter-Manuel and Board President Marcia Bedrock thought it would be better to develop a preliminary vote center plan and hold town hall meetings around the county to take feedback from the public. “To have a study committee to talk about infrastructure and technology when we don’t even have all that information, I think, is premature,” Bedrock said. “I’m not saying bypass the public.”

While switching to vote centers could eventually mean lower costs for the county, Welter-Manuel felt the main reason to make the change is convenience for the voters. “If they’re out and about, they don’t have to go back to wherever they come from to vote,” she explained. “They can vote in Knox. If they’re visiting their parents in Judson or having to take their parents in Judson to vote, they can all vote together now. There’s a lot of pros to this, and the convenience to the voter is utmost the number one reason to do this.”

Bedrock added that, other than having to sign in on an electronic poll book, there wouldn’t be much change to the actual voting process. But Bridegroom pointed out that some voters would be hesitant to switch to a new polling place.

In the end, the election board voted to hold town hall meetings to present the plan, take feedback from the public, and then possibly form a study committee if board members decide it’s necessary. Bridegroom opposed the motion. In the meantime, the election board will look into whether Starke County has adequate Internet access to support vote centers and whether the county’s IT Department has the capability to provide tech support on Election Day. Members will discuss technology and infrastructure during a special meeting to be held next week.