The Summit County Board of Elections on Tuesday gave the county a revised budget request of $6.4 million — nearly $1.9 million less than the board’s original request but $1.7 million more than the county has agreed to provide.
Board members and leaders gave the new request to Summit County Executive Russ Pry and other top county leaders during a collegial, hourlong meeting Tuesday to discuss the ongoing disagreement over how much funding the board needs in 2012, which is a presidential election year.
Pry, Jason Dodson, his chief of staff, and Brian Nelsen, the county’s budget and finance director, pledged to look over the packet of information provided to them — which includes a more detailed explanation of the board’s spending that the county has been requesting — and get back to the board.
“There’s got to be some way to work this out,” said Alex Arshinkoff, a Republican board member.
Nelson said, “We’ve got to try to balance your needs with the overall financial picture in the county.”
The board originally requested about $9.3 million for this year, which included $1 million in contingency costs. Summit County Council approved a $1.5 million budget for the board for this first quarter of this year and signed off on a full-year budget for the board last week of about $4.7 million.
The board spent $7.1 million in 2008, the last presidential election year.
The board’s lower request doesn’t include contingency costs for the Aug. 7 special election — the board won’t know how many issues will be on the ballot until after the May 9 filing deadline — and for in-person absentee voting, either at the board’s Grant Street office or an outside location. The cost for in-person early voting could range from about $191,000 to $266,000, depending on whether the board rents space for an outside spot and the schedule for voting.
The board, which had an outside location for in-person absentee voting in November 2008 and November 2010, hasn’t yet decided whether to have one this year.
The board’s lower requests include steps it has taken to lower costs, including eliminating 18 positions and a significant reduction in precincts planned before the November election.
“We’ve tried to bring our budget in line,” Arshinkoff said.
Nelsen said the biggest difference between the county and the board’s budget is in part-time and overtime costs.
Board officials are expecting a significant expense caused by the Secretary of State mailing out absentee ballot requests to all voters, which likely will boost the applications for mail-in ballots. A board study found that it takes 45 minutes to process a mail-in absentee request, versus 15 minutes for in-person early ballots.
Pry said he wants to talk to the Cuyahoga County board about how much time board employees spend on mail-in absentee ballots and how they process the requests. Cuyahoga has mailed absentee requests to all voters in the past.
Prior to the March primary, board officials were concerned about not having enough money to pay poll workers and part-time employees who helped with the election. The board was able to pay them after the county approved the board’s budget for the remainder of the year.
The board requested an opinion last week from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine about whether the board can spend money it doesn’t have and if board members would be personally liable if they aren’t able to pay the bills.
In other business, the board recently took action on two voter identification issues.
The board decided Tuesday to have employees examine the poll books from the March primary to look for instances in which poll workers didn’t check the box to indicate voters provided the required identification. They decided to take this step after an inquiry into whether a woman may have signed for ballots for both herself and a relative found that the box wasn’t checked in the identification box in one of the poll books.
“If this is a big problem, we need to know before the November election,” Arshinkoff said.
The board voted last week 2-1 to have the director and deputy director look into having mini-copiers or cell phones at polling locations to keep a record of the identification voters present at the polls. This was in response to a voter who used a Kent State University identification card to vote a provisional ballot in the March election. The Kent State cards don’t include an address, which is an identification requirement under state law.
“It’s hard to make a judgment on ID when you don’t have a record of it,” Arshinkoff said.
Wayne Jones, a Democratic member of the board, voted against the action, while the two Republicans voted for it. Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, was absent from the meeting. Jones attempted to bring this issue up again Tuesday, but wasn’t permitted to because he voted against the step in the initial vote.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.