County Clerk Debbie Russell announces consolidation of polling locations
County Clerk Debbie Russell announced voters in Saline County will be receiving a letter in the mail soon stating the consolidation of 19 polling locations to 14 and which areas will be affected.
The letter states that "effective with the upcoming primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 5, the following voting precincts will be combined:" voters in Emma will have to vote in Sweet Springs at the I-70 Community Hospital, 105 Hospital Dr.; voters in Mt. Leonard will have to vote in Blackburn at Blackburn City Hall, 205 N. Main; voters in Grand Pass will have to vote in Malta Bend at Malta Bend City Hall, 101 W. State; voters in Arrow Rock will have to vote in Hardeman at Hardeman R-10 School, 21051 Hwy. D; voters in Gilliam will have to vote in Slater at First United Methodist Church, 314 W. Emma; and the voters of Marshall Ward 2-4 will join in voting with Ward 1 at Martin Community Center, 1985 S. Odell Ave.
Russell also notes each Marshall ward will have a separate room assigned to that ward for voting purposes with its own voting machine.
Russell said this is a problem she has inherited and that when she took office in January 2011, a consolidation of polling locations was supposed to be one of the goals she should aim for by the state and others who had interest in Saline County's political well being.
"I felt as though it wasn't just something I could just walk into and say 'Hey, I'm going to close these down today,'" Russell said. "I wanted to have the opportunity to go through the experience of these elections to see how everything went, what the costs were like, the geographic location, just take everything in consideration before you ever make a move of that magnitude. Because that impacts people, impacts their civil rights, it impacts their well being and I'm very sensitive to that."
However, after three and a half years and taking in consideration of all factors, with the cost factor rising to the top, Russell came to the conclusion in favor of the consolidation.
Some of the reasons that Russell gives in consolidating the polling locations are the continuous overall increased costs for holding elections and the ongoing shortage of poll workers.
"Another big factor is having to replace our outdated machines," Russell said. "They're still working and dead-on as far as the counts concern, but they're becoming obsolete for repairs and parts to replace them when they go down. So over the next 18 months or so, we're going to have to be seriously looking at replacing all of them."
Currently, the county has 42 machines, and even though the machines are only about 10 years old, Russell said the machines don't have longevity. The new machines run about $10,000 each, so it's another cost Russell has to consider going forward, but the consolidation lessens the amounts of machines the county needs.
"Making this consolidation I felt like it was also necessary on the financial side for when we have to replace machines, but another thing were having difficulty of is getting enough poll workers to work all 19 precincts," Russell said. "A lot of the original poll workers that's worked for years have decided on their own accord that it was just getting too much for them."
Russell said with the long hours of election day and the heavy lifting of the machines, poll worker numbers have decreased.
To make costs even more tight, since making the decision to consolidate polling locations, Russell said she has received notice from the secretary of state's office that the usual grants the county applies for and receives funds from may not be so forthcoming in 2015 and on. Russell said the grant money the county wouldn't receive anymore can range anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000.
Also during her first three and a half years in office, Russell said she has continuously asked other counties how many polling locations they have compared to registered voters. She said Johnson County, which has about 32,000 registered voters, have only 10 polling locations. Saline County has less than 15,000 registered voters and while she still tried to maintain all 19 locations, its feasibility just wasn't possible anymore.
"We've done well to manage to this point to have this, but its time we do our part to make it more economical and feasible when it comes to budgets," Russell said.
Russell doesn't see that the change would be too hard on the voters, because its only asking people to make that trip once a year to three times a year to the particular polling place.
"I'm hoping that those that are affected can see the logic behind it and help me through this," Russell said. "Because it is about them. My heart is truly there. It's just that I have to think smart and not with my heart all the time... From a financial standpoint, it's the right thing to do."
Russell attended the Salt Fork Pachyderm Club meeting Thursday, June 19, to discuss the matter with them and get their thoughts on it. Richard Clemons, Pachyderm member, said the people there didn't seem to mind.
"The cost savings are certainly worth it to the county," Clemons said. "A lot of the other counties around (with) larger populations have even less voting precincts than we have. I think it'll work and (Russell) has our support."
Mildred Conner, a member of the Saline County Democratic Committee, was another person that Russell sought her opinion on the matter and like Clemons, she is in agreement with the consolidation.
"I think it was something that had to be done, especially in the rural area and it's going to cut down on the costs of holding elections at polling places across the country and I'm comfortable with what she's done," Conner said.
Russell said she is sympathetic to those the consolidation may inconvenience, so she offers absentee voting to anyone who doesn't think they will make it to the polling location on election day; if one is ill or have health reasons for not making it, she said to call the county clerk's office and the office will mail you a ballot; and lastly, she said early voting will be available in 2016, if laws pass, to provide options to those it may inconvenience.
Russell said she doesn't plan on consolidating any more polling locations at this time.
"It wasn't until the financial cost started increasing and each year I saw the increase in ballot costs, programming fees, just general across-the-board expenditures and taking year one versus year three," Russell said. "... But I gave every effort I could to try to make sure this was the right time."
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