By David Skolnick
The Mahoning County Board of Elections will reduce the number of voting precincts — but most likely retain the number of polling locations — in time for the November 2014 election.
Mahoning would eliminate about 60 to 70 of its current 273 voting precincts, and board employees already have proposed cutting 50 of them, said board officials.
The board, which has discussed this issue since the beginning of the year, approved a resolution Friday to increase the average number of voters per precinct to 800 to 850. The statewide average is 827 voters per precinct.
At 623, Mahoning has the lowest average number of voters per precinct among the state’s 13 most-populous counties.
To get between 800 and 850 voters, the board would need to cut 61 to 73 precincts.
The board’s resolution would have the staff continue the work of drawing new lines to reduce precincts without impacting geography, polling locations and other factors that impact voter convenience.
Board members said it is likely that all precincts being consolidated would be merged into others that share the same polling location.
Each precinct reduced saves the county about $1,200 to $1,500 per election, said board Director Joyce Kale-Pesta.
After board approval, the proposal would be on its website, be posted at the board office and made available to local media for public review for 20 days. The board then would have a public meeting to hear comments. If the plan is revised, it would be posted for a final 10-day review period after which the board could adopt it or make changes.
All changes will be finalized by June 20, 2014.
The board originally wanted the reduction to be finished in time for the upcoming November election, but it took longer than expected to get new mapping software to redistrict up and running, said chairman Mark Munroe.
Also in the resolution, the board requested Youngstown “make every effort to complete the redrawing of ward boundaries in order that precinct changes can be made in concert with ward changes.”
Kale-Pesta said she wasn’t sure Youngstown would have the redistricting of the city’s seven wards done in time for the 2015 election.
City council last week halted its redistricting effort to seek proposals from another entity to possibly do that work. The city has spent $8,000 for Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies to provide ward data and maps that divide the seven wards into populations that are more even than now.
But council members said they wanted a second opinion, which will delay the process. Most council members said a new map could be done before the fall of 2014 to allow those wanting to run for a seat in the May 2015 primary enough time to see the new districts.
“I don’t know where [council] is going, I really don’t,” Kale-Pesta said. “We may have to proceed without them.”
Munroe said, “We certainly would prefer to do this with new Youngs-town ward lines drawn. By delaying this until next year, it will give Youngs-town more time to redistrict, if that’s what they end up doing.”
Board employees have proposed the reduction of 50 precincts in the county, but board members want additional cuts. “We might have to cut a little deeper,” said Kale-Pesta, who estimated that another 10 could be removed.
Of the 50 precincts proposed to be eliminated, 20 are in Youngstown, where there are 77 precincts.
Also, 10 of Boardman’s 47 precincts and seven of Austintown’s 40 precincts are on the chopping block.
The rest include two of Campbell’s 11, three of Struthers’ 15, one of Beaver Township’s eight, two of the city of Canfield’s 10, one of Milton’s three [all Milton voters cast ballots at its fire station], three of Poland Township’s 16, and one of Sebring’s four.
The board reduced the number of precincts from 416 to 312 in 2001. Since then, small cuts were made in 2006 and 2012, bringing the number of precincts to 273.