Baker Center, Knox County Study Convenience Voting

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KNOXVILLE –- The University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and the Knox County Election Commission have teamed up to find a more convenient way for residents to vote, with a goal of increasing voter turnout and the cost efficiency of elections.

The effort is being funded by $99,600 from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Make Voting Work initiative. The grant is part of $2.5 million awarded to 16 projects nationwide, all intended to address the most pressing problems facing voters during the 2008 elections.

The Baker Center, in collaboration with the Knox, Anderson and Loudon County Election Commissions will conduct a multi-stage planning process that will study, design and evaluate election day vote centers to improve the way we vote.

Knox County Administrator of Elections Greg MacKay said the current system is hampered by high costs, inconvenient voting locations and problems associated with finding and retaining trained election workers. All of these problems impact voter turnout.

“Sometimes it seems like the voter is an afterthought in the process. We need to make it easier and less confusing for people to vote,” MacKay said.

The Convenience Voting Model pilot program — which will be developed by the spring -– proposes to replace the current precinct-based system in Knox, Anderson and Loudon counties. It would decrease costs and increase efficiency by allowing voters to cast their ballots at any voting center in their county during early voting and on election day.

“These Tennessee counties will be among the first to plan for vote centers and their work, coupled with the findings of other studies being undertaken in 2008, will help to ensure that any jurisdiction considering adoption of this innovation carefully weighs the pros and cons,” said Michael Caudell-Feagan, director of Pew’s Make Voting Work initiative.

The program is being designed so it can be replicated easily and adopted by any jurisdiction in the country. Members of the project team are participating in working groups with other Pew grant recipients experimenting with vote centers to help ensure ease of replication.

Additional financial support for this project comes from the Tennessee Legislature, which established a $25,000 fund to study the Convenience Voting concept.

The Baker Center is a nonpartisan center that develops educational programs and promotes research to further the public’s understanding and knowledge of our system of governance, critical public policy issues and the importance of public service and civic engagement. The center embodies a genuine respect for differing points of view, and it serves as a forum for discussion, debate, education and research.

Launched in 2007, Make Voting Work, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts, supports policies, practices and technologies that will optimize the accuracy, convenience efficiency and security of U.S. elections. In its first phase, Make Voting Work, in partnership with the JEHT Foundation, is commissioning a wide array of pilot projects and research that will enable the field of election administration to rigorously diagnose problems in U.S. elections and evaluate the effectiveness of state and local innovations that offer solutions. Throughout the initiative, Make Voting Work will promote policies, practices and technologies that will result in a state-of-the-art election system.

Make Voting Work is on the Web at www.pewcenteronthestates.org.

For more information about the Convenience Voting pilot program, see http://www.knoxcounty.org/election/convenience_voting.php.

For more information about the Baker Center, see http://www.bakercenter.utk.edu/publications.htm.

Contacts:

Amy Gibson, (865) 974-0931, agibson1@utk.edu

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