Editorial: Election Day Saving

Editorial: Election Day savings: Plan to reduce polling places responds to early voting trend

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 6/29/10. COLUMBUS — As more and more Ohioans opt to vote by absentee ballot, the neighborhood polling place could go the way of the milkman. Thus, a consolidation of many of Franklin County’s 865 elections precincts, as proposed in a plan before the county Board of Elections, is inevitable. But hallowed institutions, especially those fundamental to democracy, shouldn’t be cast aside abruptly, so taking some time to vet the plan publicly before implementing it is a reasonable approach.

The county Board of Elections voted last week to fold 62 precincts into others that already share the same polling place. That’s an easy call: The county will save nearly $200,000 through 2012 by not having to hire and train as many poll workers. In most polling places, the days of long lines are a memory. Needing fewer poll workers also will make easier the always-difficult job of recruiting enough of them for every election.

On the tougher question – whether to go through with the elimination and consolidation of another 59 precincts that would require changing their polling places – the board deadlocked in a 2-2 partisan tie, with Republicans favoring the consolidation and Democrats opposing it.

Democrats on the board agreed with Board of Elections Director William A. Anthony, also a Democrat, that change should wait until after this November’s election and that they need to know more about how the changes in polling places will affect voters.

Assistant Director Matthew M. Damschroder, who devised the plan, said more study won’t improve it and that the board needs to save money.

He’s right about the latter point, but a careful approach to precinct moves is warranted. Public input on the proposed changes could reveal problems and better ideas not already in the plan.

The board’s tie vote puts the matter in the hands of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who by law will cast a tie-breaker.

As she considers the issue, she should bear in mind the unmistakable trend toward early, absentee voting – 45.2 percent of Franklin County voters in May used that method, compared with 8.6 percent in May 2006, the first time it was widely available – and encourage all county election boards to start making the gradual move toward fewer precincts.