Indiana House committee weighs extending voting hours

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Hoosiers would get more time to vote after work under a bill debated Thursday by a House committee.

No vote, however, was taken. Rep. Tim Wesco, the Osceola Republican who authored House Bill 1221 and chairman of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee, decided to hold the bill after hearing testimony, leaving its future in doubt.

Currently, polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Indiana. Under the bill, precinct polling places and voting centers would be open until 8 p.m. It also would allow a county election board to create voting centers–centralized places where anyone in that county can vote – by a majority vote rather than a unanimous vote.

Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 39 have replaced precinct polling places with voting centers.

“Vote centers require much less manpower because you can have fewer centers and you don’t have to have one in every single precinct like the precinct system,” Wesco said.

But the combination of longer voting hours, potentially encouraging more people to vote, and fewer voting places concerned some.

Angela Nussmeyer, co-director of the Indiana Election Division, told the committee she approves of extending polling hours, noting Indiana and Kentucky have the earliest poll-closing hours in the nation. But she said that extending voting hours likely would “bump up” the number of voters, and lead to the need for more rather than fewer places to vote.

Nussmeyer said she is concerned that minority voices would not be heard if fewer polling centers were available, in turn making the two extra hours given to voters pointless.

“Minority voice is important,” she said. “And you can extend [voting] hours, but if their nearest polling location is completely opposite from where they live and they don’t have transportation, then that two hours is of no means to them.”

Vote centers became an option for counties starting in 2011, and Wesco argued that they are more accessible than precincts.

“In general, I think [voting centers] are the future of elections in Indiana. I foresee that vote centers are going to be the way people vote in the new age, so this is just trying to move that ball forward,” he said.

But he also acknowledged complications of extending voting hours.

“Our average poll worker is 72 years old. You’re talking a 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. day,” he said. “So that’s a legitimate and real concern… But at the same time I support giving as much opportunity for people to vote as is reasonable and possible.”

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said that he did not see the extra two hours as necessary.

“The heaviest voting for the working-class community is from six to eight in the morning and four to six in the afternoon,” he said. “As you all know, I’m pretty close to the labor folks. They were pretty strong about wanting that early morning voting before they go to work so I would advocate that.”

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