Potential jurors will be able to submit information electronically

Potential jurors will be able to submit information electronically

URBANA — Champaign County court officials hope a new computer program for summoning citizens to jury service will result in larger jury pools.

They already know it's going to save the county money.

Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman intends to begin sending out postcards next week that will give citizens four different methods of supplying the information that court officials want to know before a person gets summoned for jury duty.

Chief Deputy Circuit Clerk Brian Kelly said those are:

— Filling out the questionnaire online.

— Calling an automated phone number to complete the survey.

— Scanning a QR (quick response) code with a smartphone and answering the questions.

— Or texting a juror identification number to an email address and answering questions by text. (Standard texting rates apply to that last method.)

"It will save a lot in personnel hours," said Presiding Judge Tom Difanis.

Kelly, who was speaking Wednesday for Blakeman because she was at a conference, said they've estimated the savings at $5,000 a year in postage and printing and another $7,000 in labor since they will no longer have to pay employees to scan the returned paper questionnaires into the computer for use by the jury commissioners.

Volunteers from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program currently fold and stuff the envelopes to send them out, Kelly said.

Kelly explained that about 13,000 questionnaires a year get mailed out at a cost of approximately $1 apiece.

Those questionnaires will now be replaced by the postcard asking the recipient to respond in one of those four ways.

Kelly said about half of the recipients return the questionnaires each month.

"For March and April 2013, we were about 47 percent returned or usable. Usable means all the information is filled out," he said.

On those forms, if someone had a disability, there was no place to be able to expand on that information, he said, meaning a jury coordinator would have to personally contact the person to learn if the disability precluded the person from serving.

Online, there is a prompt asking for more information about it, Kelly said.

The computer program cost the county $43,612, Kelly said, and is being paid for by user fees earmarked for computer automation. The county board approved the purchase in May and it was completed in August.

Difanis said from what county officials have heard from other jurisdictions that have used the new program, an added benefit has been getting a better response to the initial questionnaire.

While everyone wants to save money, Difanis said, "it was always a concern of why are we not getting a better response."

"Anything we can do to make it easier and more efficient for people, I think we should try," the judge said.

Along the lines of making life simpler for jurors, Kelly said, once citizens are summoned for jury service, after their orientation, they will have the opportunity to receive texts or emails saying if they are needed for service the next day. That's in addition to a call-in phone number and information on the county's website.

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