Thursday, February 19, 2009

MoCo Board of Elections: Close the Precincts

Montgomery County Board of Elections Executive Director Margaret Jurgensen is recommending that the county consolidate its polling places from 45 precincts to 22 for the upcoming special election. She cites potential savings of $47,000 in Election Judge payments and $7,000 in training costs. She believes the precinct closings are justified by low turnouts, but omits the fact that precinct closings are likely to further deter turnouts. Jurgensen's recommendation comes despite the fact that the County Council has already voted to oppose precinct closings. We reprint her memo below.

February 19, 2009

To: Montgomery County Board of Elections

From: Margaret Jurgensen, Election Director

Re: Polling places for the Special Elections for Council District 4

I am attached for your consideration the following items:

Calendar for the upcoming election

Polling place list representing two plans;

1. Consolidate precincts

2. Precincts available to the Board for use in special elections.

The staff of the Board of Elections recommends that the Board permit the consolidation of polling places for the County Council District 4 Special Election. It is our belief that with historically low voter turnouts for Special Elections, concerns of the school officials related to student safety and lack of parking at certain school facilities and the county administrations expressed request to contain costs related to the conduct of elections. the proposed solution of consolidating voting precincts to 22 locations is a reasonable response to cost containment. Additionally, the Election Judges have contacted the office to voice their opinion that precincts could be combined because the day is very slow due to a low turnout. Savings from consolidation of precincts would be around $47,000 in Election Judge payments and $7,000 in training costs. Board of Elections staff will be required to send postcards to notify the voters of these polling place changes. The sample ballot will be mailed with the ballot face and information regarding the polling place address, as always. Election Day will be easier to manage with internal staff as it will reduce locations in one half to verify compliance to the conduct of the election.

The County Council requested in their Resolution to the Board of Elections to use the same polling places as in the November 2008 election. If the Board directs the staff to return to all precincts used last fall, the Board will be allowed back into all locations but four. The three churches and Wheaton Moose Lodge have indicated that we should locate elsewhere this year. The advantage to this plan is voters will not be confused as to the location of their precinct to vote.

The County Council expressed their concern that moving voting sites will depress voter turnout and if the polling place is moved, additional signage will not motivate voters to vote at the temporary site. The disadvantage to this plan is parking at the schools remains a problem, some parents will complain about strangers allowed into the school for voting and Election Judges will again face a slow day with few voters. Chief Tom Manger from Montgomery County Police did attend the Council meeting and promised that the parking issues on the street and in the parking lots would be managed successfully Board staff will mail to the four precincts the location of the new voting centers. Staff will mail the sample ballot and have included a statement to encourage voting during those hours not associated with school start and dismissal times.

Staff will need a decision at the Board meeting on Monday. We will need to begin meeting with each school principal and building services manager to determine the location of the voting area in the building and install phone lines for communication links for all polling places.. We will not have the same location in the buildings as used in November in most cases but will be directed to sites used in the Special Elections. The school system will accommodate either decision