The Vote Center Model was first envisioned by Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle in 2003. In 2002, the United States 107th Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was signed into law in November of the same year. HAVA provided the new legal framework for voting accessibility in the United States. The Vote Center Model came about in response to implementing the new requirements of HAVA as well as a vision of a more efficient, consistent voting system.
Larimer County realized some of the upcoming difficulties in implementing HAVA. In Larimer County, there are 143 precincts. The new accessibility requirements of HAVA would have required either replacing many of the county's existing polling places with more accessible sites or imposing costly structural changes on existing locations. Another difficulty the county faced was the cost of placing new voting equipment at each polling place. For example, HAVA requires low-sight accessibility at each polling place. The cost of purchasing new equipment for 143 polling places was extremely high, even with funds appropriated through HAVA.
Mr. Doyle and the Larimer County Elections Department collaborated over several months to create a new voting model. The result of their many brainstorming and problem solving sessions was the Vote Center Model. This new model brought together the early voting system, combined polling places and a great deal of innovation. Rather than using 143 precinct-specific polling places, the county would set up several large "Vote Centers" where any voter in the county could vote, regardless of which precinct he/she was registered.
The 2003 Coordinated Election served as the county's pilot Vote Center run. The county set up 22 Vote Centers throughout the county and spent a great deal of effort educating the public on the new model. Voters were able to receive and cast their correct ballot whether they voted near their home, workplace, or anywhere they found convenient. If voters moved recently within the county, they could cast their correct ballot style close to their new home without having to drive across town to their old precinct polling place. A voter living in the south end of town no longer had to rush home after work to find his/her local polling place. There was no wrong place to vote! Voters benefited by this flexibility, and lauded the new model.
In 2004, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 153, which allows Vote Centers to be used in a General Election. The Bill required that all Vote Centers are connected via a secure, real-time network in order to process voters and prevent persons from voting twice. Larimer County responded by implementing such a system through a cooperative effort between the Elections Department and Information Management Services. The result was a secure, real-time network that provided live connectivity between all Vote Centers through an encrypted, dedicated server. If a voter cast a ballot at one Vote Center, his/her voting record would immediately be updated on the electronic poll book at each Vote Center, preventing him/her from casting another ballot at another Vote Center. Larimer County found that not only could this innovation provide secure elections, but also allowed Vote Centers to process voters more efficiently than using a traditional paper poll book.
Larimer County again utilized the Vote Center Model for the 2004 Primary and General Elections. With record turnout, the public voted with efficiency and flexibility. Even when lines were long, the average voter reported casting his/her ballot within 20 minutes of arriving at a Vote Center. All locations finished processing voters shortly after 7:00 p.m., and poll workers were able to pack up and leave by 8:00 p.m. The efficiency of Vote Centers had met and surpassed the expectations of its innovators.
By early 2005, Larimer County had gained a positive reputation nationwide as a model county for conducting elections. Several counties in Colorado and nationwide began looking into implementing the Vote Center Model. In Colorado, Mesa County, Weld County and Adams County implemented Vote Centers during the 2005 Coordinated Election. Nationwide, the states of Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Michigan have all expressed an interest in adopting Vote Centers into their own elections systems. Texas conducted its own Vote Center pilot in 2005. In addition, Vote Centers have been recognized as a positive means of election reform by both the National League of Women Voters and the Election Center National Task Force on Election Reform.
In February of 2005, the county held a Vote Center Conference which was attended by 26 county election departments from throughout Colorado. In April of 2005, Larimer County gave a presentation on Vote Centers at the statewide Colorado Secretary of State Election Official Training Conference. In addition to these conferences, Scott Doyle and the Director of Elections, Jan Kuhnen spent a great deal of time during the first half of 2005 presenting Vote Centers to elections officials across the nation. Both Scott and Jan have made presentations on Vote Centers to the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT). Scott has given additional presentations to the National League of Women Voters, the Elections Center and to elections officials nationwide. Jan has focused primarily on statewide education Colorado, most recently speaking in Delta County and Montrose County. Jan has also presented the Vote Center model to elections officials in Illinois.
With a society that is increasingly mobile, and an elections system that is increasingly accessible, the Larimer County Elections Department looks forward to helping bring the Vote Center Model to any interested state or county nationwide. While still in its infancy, the Vote Center Model shows great promise as setting the standard for voting in years to come.