A board of elections has a dual responsibility to the public.
The first is to assure an honest election in which every registered voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot and every vote is counted accurately.
The second is to provide that election in a manner that is the most efficient and least costly to the taxpayers.
Members of the Trumbull County Board of Elections had an opportunity to move toward both those targets last week when presented with a proposal to reduce the number of precincts in the county by 25 percent, from 210 to 152. Unfortunately, the proposal, made by board member Ron Knight, a long-time proponent of precinct reduction, failed on a tie vote along partisan lines. Democrats Mark Alberini and Ralph Infante voted no; Republicans Knight and Kathi Creed voted yes.
That leaves the tie-breaking vote to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican. Husted should break the tie in favor of reducing Trumbull County’s precincts. Not because he would be supporting members of his own party — that would be the worst reason. But because there is no evidence that the reduction would impair the ability of the board and its employees to conduct a proper election. And the monetary savings are easily calculable, about $1,000 a year per precinct. That’s more than a half-million dollars over 10 years.
Comparable county paves way
As Knight points out, Lake County, which has 154,369 registered voters, reduced its precincts from 210 to 157 in 2009 — with no ill effect. Trumbull County has 151,048 registered voters. Some precincts have as few as 400 voters, others have more than 1,000. The average, which is about 720, would increase to about 995 if there were 152 precincts.
A side benefit of precinct reduction is that the county would not only have to pay fewer poll workers, it would have to recruit and train fewer. Finding poll workers, who only receive about $100 a day but who must be entrusted with following a challenging checklist of laws and procedures on Election Day, can be daunting. This is a case where fewer workers could improve operations.
Of course, as we noted in an editorial in July 2006, when Knight’s first proposal to reduce precinct numbers was rejected, the Democratic Party in the Mahoning Valley prefers more precincts because precinct committeemen provide the party with its worker bees. The Republican Party finds filling all those precinct spots much more difficult.
But precincts exist to facilitate efficient elections, not to underwrite a system that helps build and maintain a political party’s machine.
In a day when more voters are availing themselves of absentee and early voting, it only makes sense to shift the limited resources of the board of elections away from maintaining an artificially high number of precincts.
Secretary of State Husted should break the tie as quickly as possible, clearing the way for Trumbull County to begin the process of redrawing precinct boundaries.
And the example being set by Trumbull County should be followed by Mahoning County, where, despite a scaling back a few years ago, there is still a surplus of precincts at 273.