By SABRINA GARRETT
The Wilson Post
Wilson County Administrator of Elections Philip Warren is hopeful that proposed legislation to create vote centers in five Tennessee counties possibly including Wilson will fare well when it appears on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives next Monday.
Warren said that if the legislation is passed by both the House and the Senate, it would reduce both cost and confusion in future elections. He explained that the vote center concept was created in 2003 in Denver, Col., and spread to counties in Indiana and Texas soon after.
According to an Executive Summary provided by the Wilson County Election Commission, these vote centers are strategically located polling places where any registered voter could go to cast their ballot within their county. When a voter signs in at one location, the other vote centers computers would be notified automatically. In 2012, research studies showed that the only initiative that increased voter turnout were the new vote centers.
There are currently 33 polling places that Wilson County voters are assigned to on Election Day and not all precincts have an equal number of voters. One precinct with 165 may have a slow influx on Election Day, while a precinct with 3,800 may have an extremely long line.
Vote centers would decrease the number of polling places to15, ensuring that each location would be somewhat consistent in the number of voters participating.
Basically it would be like it is during early voting, when people can vote at any of the four locations in the county. The way it is now, on Election Day lets say you live in Norene but work in Providence in Mt. Juliet. You would have to drive back to your assigned polling place in Norene and if you dont make it by 7 p.m. you are out of luck, Warren said. Having voting centers would allow voters to vote at any of the 15 locations within the county.
Warren noted that in recent elections, the early voting format has proved to be quite a success. During the November 2012 Presidential Election, 62 percent of the 51,000 Wilson County voters who cast ballots, voted early at the countys four current early voting locations in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Watertown and Gladeville.
Other than increased voter turnout and more convenience, the vote centers would also save the county an average of $30,000 per election. The executive report said that on Election Day the county utilizes 305 poll workers and that having vote centers would reduce that number to 120.
With a difference of 185 poll workers at $125 each, it is a savings of $23,125 just on poll workers alone. Additional savings would come from fewer supplies and less labor to prepare Election Day materials, the report showed.
That is a pretty significant saving, Warren said, adding that the money could then go back into the countys general fund.
This legislation would allow up to five counties in the state to do this through a pilot program if chosen by the Coordinator of Elections at the state. Our election commission would like to be one of them, but we do not know. As of now, we are one of the only counties in Tennessee who have created a vote center plan.