BROWNSTOWN — The bipartisan committee charged with helping the county election board come up with a vote center plan for Jackson County has completed its work.
The latest step took place Monday night when a hearing to allow public comment and answer questions and concerns about the plan was held at the Jackson County Judicial Center in Brownstown.
The final step will be adoption of the plan that will allow people to vote at any one of seven vote centers around the county. That’s set for 1 p.m. Dec. 3 at the judicial center. Only the election board, which includes county Clerk Melissa Hayes, who is a Republican, Democrat Julie Rohlfing and Republican Melissa Zabel, can adopt the plan.
The plan, which has been in the works for months, would establish three vote centers in Seymour and one each in Brownstown, Crothersville, Freetown and Medora. In the past, voters in the county’s 30 precincts cast ballots at 20 polling sites spread throughout the county.
During the meeting, Hayes said all seven of the vote centers will have far more voting machines than any precinct has had in the past.
In the past, the smaller precincts would likely have had just one machine.
Karen Whisman of Seymour attended the meeting to ask a few questions, although she said many were answered when Hayes explained the plan and its purpose.
“I assume paper (ballots) will still be available as well as machines?” Whisman said.
“No, not paper as you know the paper to be,” Hayes said. “In Indiana, you have to have a paper trail, so every machine will give you a paper ballot. You are creating your ballot on demand when you vote.”
The voter can then review this selections after voting.
Paper ballots will be available for voters who vote absent by mail or live in a nursing home.
Hayes also said there will be extra help available at polling sites for those who have never voted electronically.
Cheryl Foster of Seymour also submitted some questions by email, and the committee members agreed to address her questions, which included COVID-19 restrictions, parking at vote centers and accessibility issues for handicapped individuals at vote centers.
Hayes said Jackson County will continue to follow whatever the Indiana secretary of state office recommends when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions.
Rohlfing said the committee took the need for more parking and greater accessibility into consideration when it looked at selecting vote centers.
At this time, the vote center sites selected include the enclosed shelter house at the Brownstown Park, 715 W. Bridge St., Brownstown; First Baptist Church, 305 E. Howard St., Crothersville; Freetown Community Center, 6789 N. Union Street, Freetown; and Medora Christian Church, 76 E. George St., Medora.
The three vote center sites in Seymour are the Jackson County Learning Center, 323 Dupont Drive; Fraternal Order of Police Donald M. Winn Lodge 108, 1752 First Ave. at Freeman Field; and Calvary Baptist Church, 1202 N. Ewing St.
Foster also wrote that it seemed as if the reduction of polling locations into three in Seymour was trying to suppress the right of people to vote instead of encouraging it.
“The added times, the flexibility of being able to vote wherever you are rather than in your precinct doesn’t seem to me like its a suppression,” Zabel said.
Rohlfing said the committee had to look at what is fiscally sound for the county.
“That’s another reason why the voter concept is very important because it better allows us to utilize the resources that we have available to better meet the needs of our county,” she said.
Committee member Dan Robison said it appeared to him that the plan gives the county clerk additional flexibility for future needs.
“I am sure we will learn something in this first found,” he said.
“That’s something that’s really nice with going with voter centers,” she said.
Hayes said after next year’s election, if the election board isn’t happy with one of the locations or believes one needs to be added, it has the flexibility to make changes.
As part of the plan, early voting will be expanded from two sites in the past to three for the 2022 primary election. The Brownstown early voting site will be in the enclosed shelter house at the town park. Two sites will be open for early voting in Seymour — at the FOP lodge and the learning center.
Early voting will open 28 days prior to the May 3 primary election and be available Mondays through Fridays and on three Saturdays in the days leading up to the election. Hours for the Brownstown early voting site will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, while Seymour early voting centers will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
All early voting sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and state law was changed this year to add a third Saturday during the early voting period.
The 30-day public comment period for the vote center plan began Nov. 1 and will end Nov. 30. The plan can be reviewed at the Jackson County Public Library locations in Crothersville, Medora and Seymour and at the Brownstown Public Library. The public also may visit the voter registration office in the judicial center to review the plan.
To request a plan by email, contact Voter Registration Clerk Andrea Edwards at [email protected] There also is a link on the clerk’s page on jacksoncounty.in.gov. Edwards or Hayes at [email protected] also can help answer any questions.