Improving cost AND turnout

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 139 views 

The Sebastian County Election Commission is to be commended for seeking to increase efficiencies and reduce costs with a plan to change the number of voting sites in the county.

Proposed is a plan to reduce Fort Smith polling sites from 24 to four, and Greenwood sites from three to one. Overall, the reduced number of polling sites would require 63 workers compared to 162 under the existing system. Commission officials estimate the system could save a little more than $36,000 if in place for the May 2014 primary election and the November 2014 general election. (Link here for the story on the commission proposal.)

What county officials propose is becoming common around the country.

Sioux City officials recently voted to reduce municipal voting sites from 28 to four, to save around $5,000 an election. Chautauqua County (Buffalo, N.Y., area) is reducing voting districts from 124 to 99 for the about 80,000 registered voters there. Grayson County, Texas, officials plan to save money by reducing voting sites from 36 to 22.

This list could go on.

Just as long would be the list of individuals and voting rights groups around the country who oppose the reduction. They argue that the move to reduce costs should not come with the risk of further reducing the level of voter turnout.

Voter turnout in the U.S. has declined. In fact, when transportation was less convenient, the average voter turnout in the U.S. was higher than in modern times. The average voter turnout between 1828-1860 was 70.4%. The average rose to 79.2% in the 1880-1916 period. However, average voter turnout between 1964 and 2004 was 60.4%.

And that is the concern with the plan proposed by the Sebastian County Election Commission. While we appreciate their focus on efficiencies, we are troubled by the lack of commentary on how the system could be efficient AND promote voter turnout.

The previous four primary and general election cycles (2012, 2010, 2008, 2006) in Sebastian County suggest room for improvement with respect to voter turnout.

Of the eight elections in the four election cycles (primary and general in each year), the percentage of Sebastian County voter turnout only twice bested statewide turnout. Turnout in Crawford County was better than in Sebastian County for seven of the eight elections. (The figures in the information box below are from the Arkansas Secretary of State and Sebastian County.)

An effort to improve efficiencies in the conduct of elections should not be solely evaluated from a cost standpoint. Let’s hope an effort to increase voter turnout at some point captures the same attention that has been placed on reducing election costs.