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Review of election plan makes sense

POSTED: May 19, 2013 8:00 a.m.
 

It makes sense that the county’s election office is looking at possible alterations in the alignment of precincts for future elections. That such is the fact doesn’t mean that change will be forthcoming, but it certainly is reasonable to review available options.

With the hugely successful advent of early and advance voting periods, the dynamics of voting across the state have changed. Voters have shown they like having options when it comes time to cast a ballot, and many prefer taking advantage of early voting opportunities to the traditional trek to a polling place on election day.

Mindful of the popularity of non-traditional voting options, the local elections board is looking at the possibility of consolidations that would reduce the number of precincts in the county from 25 to about 15.

Such a move could save the county thousands of dollars in a regular election year, but the decision to make such a change shouldn’t be driving solely by potential budget savings.

In looking at any long-term election strategy, members of the election board have to consider what is going to make the election experience best for the voters, what is going to guarantee the security of the voting process and what is the most efficient method to accomplish election goals. There is a balancing act involved when it comes to election costs – the steps that improve the process for the voters often result in additional costs.

More precincts mean shorter voting lines and quicker balloting. But they also mean more election day personnel, more voting machines, more security concerns and more expenses.

What really makes the existing system inefficient, however, is the necessity of having a single organizational structure in place for all elections. As a result, the same polling places are required for special elections and runoffs as are open for general elections and primaries. The cost per ballot cast skyrockets in a sparsely attended election as compared to one that draws big crowds of voters.

A reform that really would impact elections is one that would do away with the necessity of treating them all the same, so that voters might go to one precinct in a general election, but somewhere else for a special election. Such a change would require new ways of thinking statewide, and isn’t likely anytime soon.

Nobody wants to see elections with hours-long waits for potential voters, but neither does it make sense to keep precincts open for special elections when few voters make it through the doors. Early and advance voting have resulted in dramatic decreases in the numbers who vote on election day, making it even more reasonable reconsider the existing precinct map.

That said, there is no guarantee that combining precincts is viable. If it can’t be done without creating a bad experience for large numbers of voters, then it likely won’t work. If the only inconvenience is the necessity of driving a few more miles to get to a polling place, doing so may be worthwhile.

If any changes are made, they won’t happen overnight. There is still a lot of study to be done and input to be sought before a final plan is proposed, and ultimately the federal Justice Depart-ment has to give its blessing to any changes that are made. But it’s an intelligent move to at least review the status quo and see if can be tweaked to better serve the county’s residents by making elections more efficient, and less expensive.

 

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