West Lafayette IT Company Helping Change the Way Indiana Votes

Before the 2010 election, I wrote a piece for BizVoice® about online voting registration in Indiana. It featured Quest Information Systems’ FirstTuesday technology and the company’s work in helping the state streamline the process. As some counties now move to voting centers, which allow voters flexibility to cast ballots in different locations, West Lafayette-based DelMar Information Technologies has created web-based Electronic Poll Book software to track voter activity on Election Day.

In 2011, the Indiana Legislature passed a law allowing all 92 counties to install voting centers, should they choose to. Before that, Tippecanoe County was allowed to launch a pilot program in 2006. The county then approached DelMar, which operates out of the Purdue University Research Park, to develop technology to help  track voters in the 2007 election.

“If you’re going to allow people to vote anywhere, you have to be able to validate in real time that they didn’t show up at the church on 1st Street, then hop over to the community center on 3rd Street and try to vote,” explains Mikel Berger, Delmar IT software developer. “Back in 2006, there were no electronic poll books that were all interconnected and did real time verification or validation of a voter’s ability to vote. So they came to us and asked us to build it. We said, ‘Sure, but we would like to own it and license it to you.’ That way we could sell it to other counties, as other counties adopt the vote center concept.”

DelMar’s technology is now used in Cass County, and it is marketing its software to other counties in Indiana and beyond.

“(DelMar’s product) was the only one used in the pilot,” relays Doran Moreland, founder of Indianapolis-based public affairs consulting firm Exponent Strategies and partner on this project. “So you have a product made specifically for Indiana elections and to this point today, we’re the only local team that’s still doing this. We hope it’s exciting for election officials that there’s a local business that’s getting into this. We want to do this in the best interest of the state.”

DelMar’s Electronic Poll Book doesn’t require extra hardware, which can drive up the costs for municipal end users. Berger contends counties will incur some costs for the poll book, but save more money by needing less voting machines, and having fewer poll workers to hire and feed. 

“Getting adequate staffing in place for precinct-based elections is a very difficult process,” Moreland asserts. “Election officials have to find a large amount of people and train them for something you only do twice a year. You can imagine there are a lot of inefficiencies. The poll book takes out a lot of the guesswork that happens, so election officials can focus on selecting the best people and not just getting warm bodies to the table.”

Berger adds that voting convenience is significantly enhanced.

“Some people that are skeptical of (voting centers) ask, ‘You mean there will be fewer polling places?,’” he shares. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, but for the individual voter, you only ever had one polling place. Now you have 20, 40, depending on the size of your county.’ You have options, and our society is a lot more mobile than it was over 100 years ago – the last time our election laws were changed. You spend part of your day in this part of town, and part in that part of town.”

Berger says Indiana is the first state to allow all of its counties to pursue voting centers, and that Indiana is the only state allowing them to be implemented on Election Day (some states are using them just for early absentee voting).

“Once we get past the November elections, we think counties all over the country will be taking a close look at vote centers because of the cost savings,” Moreland contends. “Society’s becoming more technologically focused and there’s no reason the way we vote shouldn’t change as well.”

Dialing Up a Voting Change

A story yesterday about a number of Indiana colleges and universities doing away with telephone landlines for students (I may never forget that phone box that was shared with those next door back in the Ball State days) makes total sense in today’s world. Along the same lines, trudging to the polls on Election Day is seemingly still the "right thing" for only a shrinking number of eligible voters.

Why do I say that?

  • Early voting is becoming a dominating force, only restrained in part by the state or local laws in place. In Indiana, 24% of ballots in 2008 (more than double previous totals) were cast ahead of time. Currently, in a contentious Florida primary, more than 500,000 (30%) early votes are expected.
  • Other states are being much more innovative, with various methods to save voters the trip to the local fire station, school, church or other facility on November 2 this time around. Unlimited absentee periods, alternative early locations and even mail-in votes are part of the mix.
  • Technology is our friend. Amazing things can and do happen every day. Voting someday will certainly take place electronically. Let’s not be afraid to move in that direction. Doing things the way we have always done them — with the reasoning being we have always done them that way — simply isn’t good enough.

And if we’re going to have some voting take place on Election Day — which we certainly should — why not incorporate vote centers? These are centralized locations that make it possible for more people to participate and can save counties and states tremendous amounts of money. Pilot projects were successful. The time for widespread implementation is now.

Our BizVoice magazine, available at this time next week, will include some early election coverage, including comments on early voting and the impact on the candidates and campaigns.

Centralizing the Vote: Why Isn’t It Happening?

As I made my way to the polls (a lovely golf course that had more people on the driving range at that early hour than doing their part for democracy) just after 7 a.m. today, I couldn’t help but wonder why vote centers haven’t been given more of a chance. Yes, a few Indiana counties were allowed to experiment in recent years and the results were positive, but legislative attempts to expand the concept have not gained traction.

Instead of numerous golf courses, schools, churches, fire stations and other polling places throughout a county, voting would take place at fewer but more centralized locations (think closer to work and play). More flexibility for the voters (I would not have made it back to the scenic golf course by 6 p.m. if I had not been able to make it there before work) and signficant financial benefits for counties (less machines, fewer poll workers and undoubtedly a reduction in problems that inevitably occur at far-flung precincts where the number of voters in 12 hours barely equals the age of one of the poll workers; OK, a cheap shot, but thank goodness for those willing to work the polls election after election after election).

Vote centers are one of those ideas that simply makes sense. Kind of like township reform. With both, you would do away with an antiquated system, save money (lots of money in many cases) and more effectively serve citizens.

Established political forces don’t want local government to change, no matter the cost to taxpayers. Is it the same with vote centers? If so, why? Help me, help all of us understand.