12/03/08 — A cost justified? County debates merits of one-stop voting election expenditures

View Archive

A cost justified? County debates merits of one-stop voting election expenditures

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 3, 2008 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commissioner Andy Anderson questioned Monday morning the need and cost effectiveness of the two additional one-stop voting sites utilized by the county during last month's election.

Anderson said the county's three primary one-stop sites had experienced a steady of flow of voters while the other two had seen small numbers.

"Was it necessary to have those sites for weekend voting?" he asked county Elections Director Vickie Reed. "That is a pretty heavy cost for the county to bear. We are in tough economic times and we don't need to spend any more tax money than we need to. Was that need enough to justify the cost?"

Anderson raised his questions during Ms. Reed's election update at the board's Monday session, noting the numerous opportunities people have to vote.

The November election cost the county nearly $250,000. One-stop voting accounted for 51 percent, $130,196, of the total.

However, Ms. Reed said, the total is actually somewhat less, around $190,000, once overtime pay for employees is taken out and a $47,000 state grant for one-stop voting sites is taken into account.

Ms. Reed explained that she had included the overtime -- approximately 1,440 hours at a cost of about $16,000 -- just to show commissioners how time intensive the work on the election had been.

She also noted that 50,284, or 72 percent, of the county's eligible 69,529 voters had cast ballots in the historic election, and that one-stop voting accounted for 34,073, about 71 percent, of that total. The Election Day total was 14,180.

County Manager Lee Smith said the overtime had been expected, and reminded commissioners that county employees do not actually receive overtime pay. Rather, they will be given time off over the next several months.

Ms. Reed said she viewed her job as making sure every registered voter has an opportunity to vote.

"I know that voters, no matter the opportunities they have, always wait until the last minute," she said. "With the heavy voting at the library, and the (Woodmen of the World) building coming in a close second, we thought that with the last week coming up that it would advisable to have satellites (sites) open.

"We conferred with our county chairperson. We talked to the state Board of Elections, and our board (of elections) made the decision it would be wise to have them (extra sites) open."

Anderson, however, voiced concern about the commissioners being left out of that decision.

"The board (of elections) makes the decision, but county commissioners have to fund it," Anderson said. "Why wasn't it brought back to us?"

Ms. Reed emphasized that the Board of Elections had not gone over budget, but apologized for not updating commissioners about the decision.

"Just because you have it in the budget does not mean that you have to spend it," Anderson responded.

Smith said he would meet with Ms. Reed to analyze the cost and put "pencil to paper" about what procedures to use next time and would report back to commissioners.

Overall, though, Commissioner J.D. Evans said he was pleased with the job Ms. Reed and her staff had done.

"I'd like to see everybody vote even if it takes opening 10 more places," he said, adding that the county must continue "to do whatever is necessary" to get the people out to vote.

Anderson and Commissioner Jack Best agreed that the Board of Elections had "done a good job" with the election.

"When I look back I see what an amazing job you did and got a 72-percent turnout," Best said.

And while Commissioner John Bell said that he had not seen too much disruptive behavior by campaign workers at the polls, they did acknowledge that there was room for improvement, particularly at the library where there were concerns about the lack of parking, the misuse of handicapped parking and other traffic congestion problems.

"If we continue to use the library we need to work with the library board," Commissioner Steve Keen said.

Ms. Reed said the Board of Elections had done so and would continue to work with the library.

"We knew there would be a lot of campaign workers, but we did not expect the crowd of campaign workers that we had," she said. "They did interfere with the library's day-to-day activities during the first three days, mostly," she said.

But, she said, once off-duty deputies were hired and other steps taken, she thought things went fairly smoothly, and that while they would look for other polling places, she does like the library because of its central location.