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Clark County to trim precincts by November

Change will save money with minimal effect on voters, officials say.

The Clark County Board of Elections is cutting about 10 percent of its precincts, part of an effort to hold down costs, improve efficiency and save funding that may eventually be needed to improve technology used for elections.

Most voters likely won’t notice the cut of nine precincts, said Matthew Tlachac, director of the Clark County Board of Elections. But the decision is expected to save the board as much as $500 per precinct per election, along with other costs associated with delivering equipment and supplies. The number of precincts in Clark County will be trimmed from 99 to 90, with many of the changes affecting precincts in Springfield Twp.

No voting locations will change for voters, Tlachac said, but it will mean fewer poll workers in some of the voting locations that will be affected. Staff from the board of elections reviewed each change, and Tlachac said it shouldn’t mean longer wait times for voters in most scenarios. The board of elections began mailing yellow postcards Friday to voters who might be affected by the change.

Some of the cost-savings will be beneficial as counties increasingly look toward purchasing equipment such as electronic pollbooks, and Clark County needs to replace precinct optical scanners.

“As we look to the future, hopefully it will be a good thing for us,” Tlachac said.

The Ohio Revised Code allows a lot of discretion to counties when setting precincts, said Matthew McClellan, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Among the restrictions, counties cannot change precincts within 25 days before a primary or general election, for example. The boundaries also should not include more than 1,400 voters per precinct.

“The county knows best what their needs are,” McClellan said.

Trimming the number of precincts may have other benefits as well, Tlachac said, including making it easier to recruit precinct election officials, and reducing some costs for subdivisions as they run special elections. It could also mean the board would need to purchase fewer pieces of equipment needed per precinct.

One item the board is considering in the future is electronic pollbooks, devices that can scan a voter’s state issued ID and easily identify which precinct voters should be in, check voters in more quickly and identify which ballot a voter should receive.

Neither Clark nor Champaign County currently use the electronic poll books, although Champaign County will likely take part in a pilot program this fall that will use the pollbooks in a handful of locations. Clark County is considering testing the devices in a pilot program as well.

The devices can be expensive, said Kathy Meyer, director of the Champaign County Board of Elections. To purchase the equipment for all of Champaign County would cost about $45,000, she said, and the county has not made any decisions. One benefit is they can provide more accuracy for poll workers, Meyer said.

“I think all of us in elections would like to have them because of efficiency and accuracy,” Meyer said. “Whether every county can afford them just yet will be another issue.”

The state does not persuade counties one way or another on whether to use the electronic pollbooks, McClellan said. But Montgomery County used them in the 2012 presidential election, cutting average check-in time for voters from as much as three minutes to an average of about 30 seconds, McLellan said. About a dozen counties currently use the electronic poll books.

Cutting the number of precincts helps show the county is being fiscally responsible, Tlachac said, and election workers will monitor the precincts this fall to make sure the changes are convenient for voters.

“Decreasing the number of precincts will help us with some of the costs,” Tlachac said.

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