By Collin Brooks
The Washington County Election Commission is working overtime to try and figure out the repercussions of the redistricting plan that Washington County Commissioners voted into action and is expected to take effect during the next elections in August 2018.
The Election Commission has already requested over $104,000 in this year’s budget in order to notify the public of the redistricting line changes. However, Election Commission members said that figure doesn’t account for any other changes that will need to be made by adding precincts, voting machines and workers.
“This is a big rock that they dropped into a pond and the ripples are amazing…We haven’t factored in any of those costs,” Washington County Election Secretary Leslie Lacy said. “The numbers in our budget now are based on 40 precincts.”
Recently though, the Election Commission learned from the State’s Comptroller Office that the county may need as many as 55 precincts in order to satisfy all the voting requirements for next year’s election.
Some of those requirements are mandated by state law, including a ceiling of 6,000 registered voters per precinct and expecting 1,000 voters per machine.
Washington County Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said the talks about increasing the number of precincts is something that he hadn’t heard before the redistricting plan was voted on.
“I never heard in the discussions the idea of increasing the number of precincts,” he said. “But we don’t know how many precincts we are going to need until the Election Commission gets a little further into that, so we don’t know the cost associated with that, yet.”
The Election Commission said they aim to have the number of precincts decided by the middle of August and while it may not be possible, they would love to be able to cut down the number of precincts in the county.
The problem with decreasing the number of polling places is that it could create a longer and more inconvenient drive for people who live in the rural areas of the county.
Washington County Election Commissioner John Ruetz said that a long drive to a precinct could deter voters from turning out to vote.
“Just because of location, are we going to say that these people are second-rate or second-class?” asked Ruetz. “There is not one of us that is against cutting back precincts. It gives us less to have to deal with on election day. But it just isn’t as simple as cutting them back.
There are a few instances where up to three precincts could have to be made to service just one or two people. The Election Commission is calling those doughnut holes, where the city annexed around parts of the county. Two of those holes are in District 12 and District 3.
There is the opportunity to combine a few precincts, but the commission must find buildings that are large enough to combine the number of voters and that hasn’t been easy.
“Right now, we don’t have huge areas where they can accommodate the parking,” Lacy said. “It’s hard enough to find precincts that can accommodate the crowds that we have now.”