Summit County to add more voting precincts

Grant Engle

The Summit County Board of Elections plans to increase its number of voting precincts, but by how many and at what cost remains to be seen.

After receiving complaints about long lines during November voting, the Summit County Board of Elections voted Jan. 15 to add between 70 and 100 polling places before the May primary election.

Kim Zurz, the deputy director of the Summit County Board of Elections, said highly populated areas such as Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and Barberton experienced long waits at the polls, and the board needs to make a change.

“Knowing the problems that ensued on Election Day for our voters, we absolutely have to go back and make this right,” Zurz said.

Between the primary and general election in 2012, Summit County eliminated 177 polling stations to save money.

Zurz said she isn’t sure what the ideal number of precincts will be yet, but the board is looking to average between 950 and 1,050 registered voters per precinct.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, there shouldn’t be more than 1,400 voters per precinct. In some cases, polling stations in Summit County had to serve more than 1,700 voters.

The board has to wait for cities to redraw their ward lines while considering census information to come up with an accurate assessment.

Zurz said the board will know how many polling stations it will need to add near the end of February, and she hopes to have them available for the May primary election.

The board’s proposed budget from the Summit County Executive is $4.1 million for 2013 – a sizable reduction of the $6.1 million budget from 2012.

The costs associated with renting new polling locations can vary depending on the size of the building, the number of people working at the precinct and even the amount of office supplies required to give the staff.

Zurz said she isn’t sure if the board will have to ask the county for more money because the surge in November voting was unexpected.

“To be honest, this was not something we anticipated initially having to do, nor do I think the executive’s office – when they gave us our budget for this year – had anticipated,” Zurz said.

The board returned more than $465,000 to the county in 2012, and Zurz said she takes the fiscal responsibility of the board of elections very seriously.

While voter turnout usually shrinks in non-presidential election years, Zurz said the county still has to accommodate every registered voter in the county – whether it’s likely they’ll vote or not.

“There’s nothing that says they won’t vote,” Zurz said. “Sometimes school issues and local issues can bring the largest voter turnout because there are that many more people educated on the specific issue.”

While there were similar reports of long lines at the SWRC and at the United Church of Christ near Kent Campus on Election Day, the Portage County Board of Elections has no plans to increase its number of precincts.

Faith Lyon, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said polling stations in Portage County averaged between 1,000 and 1,200 voters per precinct. She also pointed out that the county kept the same number of precincts it used during the 2008 election – unlike Summit County.

“I think what happened in Summit [County] was they decreased a little too much,” Lyon said.

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected].