Summit County now has more precincts than it had last November — when voters complained of long lines and extended waits — but not as many as it had before money-saving reductions were made last year.
The elections board unanimously voted Monday to boost the number of precincts from 298 to 420, an increase of 122, or 29 percent. The number is still 55 below the 475 the county had before last year’s cuts.
“I feel this is a good, manageable number,” said Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, who was opposed to cutting the precincts and polling locations between the primary and general election last year.
The board’s Republican members and the secretary of state opted to move forward with the reductions last year, which were done when the board was in a budget battle with Summit County about how much funding the board needed.
The next step will be deciding on polling locations to match up with the precincts. The board reduced the polling locations from 194 to 151, or 22 percent, last year.
The board recently sent letters to elected officials across the county, asking for suggestions for large meeting places with ample parking that could be considered for use as polling locations. Director Joe Masich said the board has received numerous suggestions and is still taking input.
The new precincts and polling locations will be in place in time for the Aug. 6 special election and Sept. 10 primary, said Kim Zurz, the board’s deputy director.
The board’s precinct reduction last year resulted in an average of 1,200 voters per precinct. With the registration drives leading up to the presidential election, the number of voters swelled to 1,400 to 1,600 voters in some precincts, Masich said.
The board received numerous complaints in the November election, including people being confused about where they needed to vote, wait times as long as 2½ hours and poll workers who were so overwhelmed they couldn’t take a break.
The new precincts each have less than about 1,050 voters. The smallest precinct has 400 voters. Most precincts will have between 800 and 1,000 voters, according to an elections board document.
“We will have significantly less voters in each precinct,” Masich said.
In addition to addressing the number of voters, the new precincts reflect ward line changes made in Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls in response to the U.S. Census.
Gorbach said the board is confident it will be able to afford the higher staffing costs associated with the larger number of precincts and polling locations within the budget it has been given by Summit County for this year.
“We need to watch our budget, but the bigger issue is we need to allow people to vote in a timely manner and a more organized manner,” he said. “I don’t think we will have to ask for more money because of this.”
Community members who were concerned about the precinct reductions made last year were pleased that the board opted to add more precincts.
“We don’t ever want to see those levels again,” Belinda Wing, the Hudson League of Women Voters’ liaison to the board, said of the reduced number of precincts.
Wing was among the poll observers the league had at Summit County polling locations in November.
“It was hard for us to watch,” she said. “I saw people leave and worried that they didn’t come back.”
League members got a copy of the new precinct list and map Monday and plan to study it to look for any potential issues or concerns.
To make a suggestion on a potential polling location, call Masich at 330-643-5301 or Zurz at 330-643-5424. The board plans to post the new precinct map to its website, www.summit countyboe.com, this week.