The Summit County elections board plans to increase the number of precincts, though not to the level before cuts were made last year.
The board voted Tuesday to boost the number to between 368 and 400 precincts from the current 298. The county had 475 precincts before the reduction to save money between the primary and general elections last year.
Director Joe Masich said the new, larger number of precincts would mean between 950 and 1,050 voters per precinct and, with a third of voters generally voting early, should result in a manageable number at the polls. The board currently has an average of 1,200 voters per precinct.
The board’s Republican members suggested cutting precincts as one of several money-saving steps when the board was locked in a battle with the county over how much it needed to make it through last year. The Democratic members opposed this step, saying it would be too disruptive in a presidential election year. Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, sided with the GOP members in favor of the move.
The board received numerous complaints from voters and poll workers in the November election about people who were confused about where they needed to vote, wait times as long as 2½ hours and poll workers who were overwhelmed.
“There’s no doubt we had more voters in some precincts than we should have had,” said Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman. “Maybe it was the presidential [election], but we want to be prepared for that. I’m glad we’re now looking into this.”
Masich plans to seek a bid from International Computer Works in Temple Terrace, Fla., which redrew the precincts for the board last year, for the cost of doing them again. He will share the bid amount with the board at its next meeting on Jan. 29.
Masich said the board was going to need to make changes anyway because three of the largest communities in the county — Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls — have redone or are in the process of redoing their ward boundaries in response to the U.S. Census. The board attempts to keep wards and people who vote for particular local elected officials in the same precincts.
Plus, some precincts, including several surrounding the University of Akron, swelled to more than 1,700 voters because of voter registration drives leading up to the November election, Masich said. This exceed’s the state’s threshold of 1,400 voters per precinct.
Masich and Kim Zurz, the board’s deputy director, are still working on a report about what went wrong on Election Day and what can be done to fix it. The board plans to survey poll workers to get their input.
Masich said the board needs to know the new number of precincts — and the resulting increase in polling locations — before making a budget request for this year to the county. After reducing precincts last year, the board cut polling locations to the precincts from 194 to 151, a reduction of about 22 percent.
The Summit County Council approved $4.1 million for the board for 2013 when it passed the county’s operating budget for this year at a meeting in December. That figure is down sharply from the $6 million-plus budgeted for 2012.
And the board was able to return about $466,000 to the county at the end of 2012, meaning it ended up spending about $5.7 million last year, Masich said.
“This demonstrates a good-faith effort on the part of the board,” said Ray Weber, a Republican board member.
The board plans to make a capital request to the county for equipment it would like to purchase, though board officials aren’t holding out much hope because the county has a limited capital budget. Masich said the board’s voting equipment is entering its 11th year and is only estimated to last 10 years.
The capital request will include $2.5 million for 425 new ballot scanners for the precincts, $400,000 for four high-speed tabulators for the board office, and $700,000 to $1 million for electronic poll books for each precinct. Other counties with electronic poll books, which allow poll workers to easily check in voters, say they cut down on wait times and decrease paper and employee costs.
Weber suggested that the board’s staff talk to other counties about how long their elections equipment has lasted and what types of problems they’ve had. He said the equipment is “only used three or four times a year.”
Gorbach asked board employees to come up with detailed information for the county about how much money and time the capital purchases would save.
“With any capital purchase, we have to illustrate the cost benefit,” he said.