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Elections board cuts 25 voting precincts



Published: Wed, September 6, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The elections board seeks advice from the county prosecutor on late bills.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN --To save money, the Mahoning County Board of Elections eliminated 25 voting precincts effective with the Nov. 7 election.

It costs about $1,000 for each precinct, primarily for poll worker salaries and training and rental fees, said Thomas McCabe, elections board director. The closings are largely at polling places with multiple precincts as well as those with very low voter turnout, he said.

Of the 25 closings, seven are in Youngstown, six in Austintown, five in Boardman, three in Goshen Township, two in Campbell and one each in Craig Beach and Springfield Township.

The board plans to close two more precincts, one each in Boardman and Poland, after the November election. There are liquor options in those two precincts on the November ballot and to merge them now would create voter confusion, McCabe said.

The board voted to close the precincts at a special Tuesday meeting. This is the first time since 2001 that the county board is closing precincts. Five years ago, the board eliminated 104 of the county's then 412 precincts.

Voters will get letters

The board will send letters by Friday to all registered voters informing them of their precincts and polling locations. Also in October, the board will send a second letter to those who are in new precincts.

Also Tuesday, the board agreed to send a letter to county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains to address financial problems with Election Systems & amp; Software, the Nebraska company that provides voting machines for the county.

The elections board owes about $450,000 to the company for voting machines and maintenance contracts dating to 2004. Because of the nonpayment, the county cannot get ES & amp;S to replace batteries in the voting machines that have met their useful life, McCabe said. Without a resolution soon, there could be serious problems Election Day, he said.

In the letter, the board says the funding problem puts the board's ability to conduct an organized election in jeopardy.

A majority of county commissioners won't approve the payment.

Root of problem

The problem stems from the refusal of county Auditor Michael Sciortino, the former elections board director, to write a $75,000 check to pay for the county's purchase of the Oakhill Renaissance Center. He wants information about the costs of the county's occupancy of the building and from where the money will come.

Sciortino didn't return a telephone call Tuesday about the issue. But county Commissioner John McNally, who also opposes the building purchase, said if the elections board needs the money, it should be provided immediately.

Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, who along with Commissioner David Ludt wants the county to buy the South Side facility, said he won't approve the elections board purchase until Sciortino turns over the $75,000.

"On one hand, our auditor wants to recognize the commissioners' authority to pay for the election machines he purchased without first getting a purchase order, and on the other hand, he won't recognize our authority to pay for Oakhill Renaissance," Traficanti said.

Traficanti said the two issues are connected. He said he has sought Gains' legal opinion on the two matters and is waiting for an answer.

Traficanti said Sciortino, as elections director, made a bad decision buying extra voting machines, calling the issue a "debacle."

Sciortino "can't have it both ways," Traficanti said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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