5 tapped for Monroe County vote center committee, six more needed

At its Thursday meeting, Monroe County’s three-member election board accepted five appointments that have been made to an 11-member vote center committee.

Vote centers are different from the kind of precinct-based polling locations currently used by Monroe County. At a precinct-based polling site, only voters from specified precincts can cast a ballot there.

Vote centers are polling places where a voter who is registered in any precinct can cast a ballot. For election administrators, it means some additional planning—to make sure that all the different ballots, which are tied to different precincts, are available for voters across the county.

The usual precinct-based polling locations will be used for the upcoming Nov. 7 municipal elections.

The vote center committee is supposed to produce a plan, as part of the requirements for eventually establishing vote centers.

Named to the vote center committee on Thursday were: Ilana Stonebraker; Hal Turner; Debora (Ralf) Shaw; Daniella Wheelock; and Stacy Kowalczyk.

Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 60 have already adopted vote centers. Adoption of vote centers would require a unanimous vote on the county’s three-member election board.

Once all the vote center committee members have been appointed, and it has started to meet, the timing of possible implementation will likely start to come into focus. There’s a seven-step process that is supposed to be followed.

Based on election board comments in the last few months, a likely scenario for using vote centers for the first time, if they are adopted at all, looks like it could come during the 2026 election cycle.

The board assigned three committee appointments apiece to the county chairs of the Democratic Party and Republican Party, and five to the Monroe County clerk, Nicole Browne.

The appointments assigned to the clerk are broken down like this: 3 who are independent of political party; 1 who is a member of the League of Women Voters; and 1 who “represents through lived experience and/or professional expertise with functional or access needs.” Browne made four of her five appointments on Thursday.

In the state of Indiana, party affiliation is defined by a person’s participation in primary elections. About the fifth appointment, Browne said it is hard to find someone who “truly is independent and does not align with any party.”

Browne issued a public appeal: “If you would like to serve on the vote center committee and you are an independent—your voting record cannot be traced back to either party—I would be very grateful to hear from you.” Contact information for the Monroe County clerk is available on the county’s website.

Hal Turner was appointed by Browne as someone with expertise in accessibility. Turner serves on the board of Stone Belt, a nonprofit that provides resources and supports for individuals with disabilities. He is also a former member of the county election board.

Debora (Ralf) Shaw was appointed by Browne as the member from the League of Women voters. Shaw serves as the spokesperson for that group. Shaw is typically in attendance at election board meetings, and Thursday was no different.

Daniella Wheelock and Stacy Kowalczyk were appointed by Browne as independents.

Wheelock recently moved to Bloomington from Chicago, after being hired as associate artistic director for Constellation Stage & Screen. She attended Thursday’s election board meeting.

Kowalczyk was described by Browne on Thursday as “recently retired and looking for a community service opportunity.” Trained in library and information science, Kowalczyk’s background includes serving as associate director of Indiana University’s library.

Adding to the number of librarians on the committee is Ilana Stonebraker, who was appointed by Monroe County Democratic Party chair David Henry. He also serves on the election board. Henry described Stonebraker as a librarian at the Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, who served as an elected Tippecanoe County councilor.

Henry has two appointments left to make. Monroe County Republican Party chair Taylor Bryant has all three of her appointments left to make. On Thursday, the GOP appointee to the election board, Judith Benckart, indicated that some committee appointments are in the works, but no formal correspondence has been exchanged.

On Thursday, recently hired election supervisor Ryan Herndon gave the board an update on some of the preparations for the Nov. 7 municipal election.

Herndon reported that the ballots have been sent to Hart InterCivic to get ready for printing. Hart is the company that manufactured the county’s voting equipment. The date set for the public review of the draft ballots is Sept. 13, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The tentative date that has been set for the testing of the voting machines is Sept. 19 at 9:30 a.m.

On Sept. 22, absentee ballots will be mailed out to those who requested them. Early in-person voting starts on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Not getting a mention at Thursday’s meeting was a lawsuit filed by Joe Davis against the secretary of state, the Indiana Election Division and the Monroe County voter registration office.

The lawsuit concerns Davis’s effort to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot as a mayoral candidate. He fell 14 short of the 352 signatures he had to collect.  There’s not a lot to report on the lawsuit at this point—as of Friday afternoon, a special judge has not yet been selected.