05/16/11 — County: Voting changes will save money

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County: Voting changes will save money

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 16, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County elections director Vicki Reed says reducing the number of days that polls are open for one-stop voting would save her department nearly $60,000 an election, but that the decision was not likely to be popular with voters.

Under a bill recently passed by a House committee, one-stop voting would be reduced by a week -- beginning the second Thursday before the election, not the third, leaving 11 days available for voting, rather than the current 18.

Effectively, Ms. Reed said, that would reduce the number of actual required polling days from 12 and a half to seven and a half.

Supporters of the bill say it would save counties and candidates money. Opponents say it would create an unnecessary barrier to voting, especially for Democrats. Supporters counter that argument, saying that turnout in the early days of one-stop voting is so light that its effect would be negligible.

"We have heard from a lot of people that it is too long," Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, one of the bill sponsors, said. "Some states have longer, some states don't have early voting at all."

But it's the economic argument, he said, that's really the impetus for the measure.

"Economically, we've got to look at those areas," he said.

In Wayne County, in 2008 for the last presidential election, there were a total of 34,073 ballots cast at the five one-stop locations -- 68 percent of the total 50,284 ballots cast. Broken down by day, there were fewer voters casting their ballots in the opening days of one-stop than there were in the last ones -- 1,879 on the opening Thursday, compared to 3,162 on the last full Friday.

In 2010, a mid-term election, there were a total of 14,924 one-stop votes cast at the one-stop locations, with 998 cast on the first day and 1,905 on the last full day.

In both, Democrat voters outnumbered Republican -- 19,333 to 10,283 in 2008 and 7,902 to 5,395 in 2010.

"From what I've seen, early voting is a wonderful thing. We do have days, especially the first three days that are a little slow. Everyone waits until the last few days to vote. Human nature being what it is, people wait until the last few days no matter who they are," Ms. Reed said. "The last week, we have the higher totals."

In terms of cost savings, she said for a small election, one-stop voting costs the county about 4,440 per day in payroll for all three sites -- $57,270 total. For a large election, with five sites, she said it costs $67,680 total -- approximately $6,060 per day.

"Yes, it would be substantial savings in my budget, but the county's the money person. I am for the voters. I think people would adjust pretty well. I don't know how much impact that would have, I would not say it would be popular with the voters. They enjoy that," Ms. Reed said.

However, said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, the effort does seem to be targeted primarily at Democrat voters.

"I don't think there was anything wrong with what we have right now," he said. "I don't think we need to change it and I do think the change would affect a lot of African American voters. You don't know what people's reasons are, but in the last presidential election, you had a lot of African American voters voting early. The more people who turn out tend to favor the Democrat Party."

And while he acknowledged that opposing the measure would effectively help Democrats, he said the real goal should be to allow as many people to vote as possible.

"I think what we have is pretty reasonable," Bell said. "I don't think it would save that much money and I think the benefits of having more people vote are greater than saving a few thousand dollars. I think we should be for getting more people to vote."