Tricky political proposition

On the side

Mayoral debate: The 7th Ward Citizens Coalition will sponsor a debate of the three candidates running in the Democratic Youngstown mayoral primary at 7 p.m. March 21 at the D.D. & Velma Davis Center at Mill Creek Park’s Fellows Riverside Gardens.

A panel of local journalists, including our own Bertram de Souza, will ask questions to the three candidates: council President Jamael Tito Brown, John McNally IV, a former Mahoning County commissioner and city law director, and Matthew Smith.

The debate will run for 90 minutes and is open to the public.

Rich businessman/politician: During a U.S. House Ways and Means Committee meeting, Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, Pa., R-3rd and super-rich guy, went off on politicians who tax, but have never run a business.

He said: “We [in Washington] don’t understand how badly we have hurt people’s outlooks into the future with any type of confidence that they can survive in an area where the government should be your friend … and you know what? We’re just the opposite.”

Reducing voting precincts is tricky — more so for the political implications than the ease of those going to the polls.

In Mahoning County, the number of voting precincts has declined from 412 to 273 in the past 12 years.

While that’s a huge reduction, Mahoning still has the lowest number of voters per precincts among the state’s 13 most-populous counties.

Mahoning has 623 voters per precinct. In second is Trumbull with 721 and that county’s board of elections agreed to a precinct reduction to take effect in 2015.

And with early voting, the number of voters per precinct is considerably lower statewide

Reducing precincts

The Mahoning County Board of Elections is looking at reducing precincts without causing voters to travel by consolidating at polling locations with multiple precincts. For example, a polling location with seven precincts could end up with five precincts at the same building.

It’s logical and saves money.

Each precinct reduced saves about $1,000 to $1,200 per election.

Most of the precincts cut would be in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell, which has some of the lowest voters per precinct in the county.

Here’s where it gets political, and could cause issues.

All voting precincts elect central committee members for the county’s Democratic and Republican parties.

Those committee members in the Democratic Party vote on endorsements and filling vacancies when elected officials leave office before their terms expire.

County GOP Chairman Mark Munroe, who is also head of the board of elections, wants to eliminate 50 to 90 precincts.

In a very Democratic county, Republicans have virtually no presence in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell so cuts there will have little impact on the GOP.

There are several precincts in those three communities without a Republican precinct committee representative.

On the other side, those are very strong Democratic portions of the county. Well, Democrats are strong throughout the county, but those are three of the party’s power bases.

County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, who serves as the board of elections’ vice chairman, agrees that precincts need to be reduced.

But he isn’t ready to put a number on how many should be cut until he determines the impact of voters by reducing specific precincts.

It will happen, with the board expecting the reduction in time for the November general election.

One key stumbling block is if or when Youngstown redistricts its seven wards so that each has close to the same number of residents.

Vague amendment

Youngstown voters approved a vaguely written charter amendment last November about redistricting. The language doesn’t compel council to redistrict now.

Even if council members approve redistricting, they could wait for it to take effect with the next council election in 2015.

Council’s legislation committee may start looking at redistricting in the next week or so.

Until an agreement is made among members of city council and then the board of elections, with input from precinct committee members, there won’t be redistricting or maybe it will be a small reduction like last year when 14 were eliminated.

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