Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

January 18, 2008

Ball State University's new Bowen Center for Public Affairs will assess the potential use of vote centers in two Indiana counties as part of a major national initiative to improve U.S. elections.

The Pew Center on the States' Making Voting Work initiative and the JEHT Foundation have awarded the Bowen Center $202,600 to weigh the use and effectiveness of conveniently located voting facilities piloted in Wayne and Tippecanoe counties in 2007.

The assessment will examine the impact on voter turnout, cost, efficiency on election day operations and public opinion. The project has the support of local election officials, as well as Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, and is expected to inform a decision in 2009 about whether to allow other counties to adopt vote centers.

Raymond Scheele, Bowen Center co-director and political science professor, said states are grappling increasingly with the problem of overcrowded, inconveniently located and poorly designed polling places.

Indiana's one of several states experimenting with voter centers that replace neighborhood precincts and allow voters to cast ballots at larger, more centralized polling facilities.

The innovation is in its infancy and important questions have been raised, including how to determine where vote centers should be located and what their impact is on voter turnout and the cost of running elections, Scheele said.

"We've been unofficially working with officials in both counties since last year to collect data on the potential acceptance of voter centers," he said. "We are going to determine if these centers, which are placed in more convenient locations, can increase voter turnout and, at the same time, reduce costs by eliminating the number of precincts and precinct workers."

In partnership with the JEHT Foundation, Pew is awarding $2.5 million in funding to 16 projects that advance innovative solutions to critical flaws in our elections system and improve accuracy, convenience, efficiency and security for voters. An additional $1 million in funding will be awarded over the next six months.  The projects were selected from 183 proposals submitted to Pew in 2007 from state and local governments and election experts.

The voting center assessment is the first major project for the Bowen Center, which was established earlier this year to provide training to public officials and provide university-based, nonpartisan research aimed at improving the performance and delivery of government services. The operation honors former Indiana Gov. Otis R. "Doc" Bowen for his many years of public service benefiting the residents of Indiana.