By Ed Runyan
Democratic Trumbull County Board of Elections member Mark Alberini said the 2-2 vote Monday on whether to further reduce the number of voting precincts in Trumbull County demonstrates “democracy at work.”
It now goes to Ohio’s Republican secretary of state for the tiebreaker.
The elections board of two Democrats and two Republicans split along party lines on Republican Ron Knight’s proposal that the number of voting precincts be reduced from 210 to 152.
The board reduced the number of precincts in 2009 from 274 to 250, reduced it to 238 in 2010 and down to 210 in 2011.
Knight and former board member Republican Craig Bonar have said the reason for reducing precincts is to save money — around $1,000 per year for each eliminated precinct.
Alberini became the most animated during the discussion, saying he fears eliminating 58 more precincts could lead to problems on election days that Trumbull County traditionally hasn’t had.
“I’m emphatically against it. There will be problems. This is a recipe for disaster,” Alberini said.
The counties that have reduced their precincts to the levels Knight has proposed are among the larger cities — Cleveland, Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton — Alberini said.
“They are the ones I’m hearing about in the news that have problems,” Alberini said.
Knight countered that what he wants to do is comparable to counties such as Lake, Wood and Geauga — “places that have a good reputation.”
Knight said Lake County has 154,369 registered voters, which is close to Trumbull County’s 151,048. Lake County reduced its precincts from 210 precincts to 157 in 2009 without any harm, Knight said.
Scott E. Daisher, a Mahoning County native and now director of the Lake County Board of Elections, said by telephone Monday that the reduction was a benefit to the Lake County Board of Elections by reducing the number of poll workers and polling places.
For the “political realm,” it meant some members of the central committee of the Democratic and Republican parties had to run against each other that didn’t have to run for the positions in the past.
“It has worked out real well for us,” Daisher said of the elections board. Daisher was appointed by the Lake County Democratic Party.
Alberini and fellow Democratic board member Ralph Infante stressed the loss of 58 positions for central-committee members that would occur if precincts were reduced.
Infante said many of the precinct committee members in the Democratic party rely on the $150 per election they earn as a poll worker.
Alberini said central-committee members are “grass-roots people who want to be involved” in the political process,” and it would be a shame to lose so many of them.
Alberini noted that the loss would be felt almost exclusively by the county Democratic Party, because most of its seats on its central committee are filled, while only about half are filled on the Republican side.
Knight said one reason he’s proposing the reduction is to equalize the number of active voters at each precinct. Currently, there are seven precincts with more than 1,000 active voters but 25 other precincts that have fewer than 400.
The proposal orders the elections-board staff to complete the precinct revision by March 1 for those communities having something on the ballot in the May 7 primary.
Kelley Pallante, elections-board director, and Jodi Fiorenzo-Dibble, deputy director, both expressed concern about the amount of work that would be required of them and their staff to complete the revision. They estimated it would take three to four weeks to carry out.
Because the vote was a tie, it goes to Jon Husted, Republican Ohio Secretary of State, to either break the tie or recommend some other solution.
“I don’t want somebody from Columbus making a local decision for us,” Alberini said.