Election centers recommended to replace precincts

Friday, February 8, 2013

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County's Election Commission chairman advocates election centers to make voting more convenient.

And the Tennessee Association of County Election Officials (TACEO) says election centers could lower the cost of elections.

"I feel strongly that Chapel Hill should have an early voting poll," Election Commission Chairman Don Wright told county commissioners last week.

Chapel Hill's Board of Mayor and Aldermen requested an early voting poll for its residents and others nearby for an election last year. As a satellite of the election office's early voting poll in Lewisburg, the proposed poll in Chapel Hill would serve residents living anywhere in Marshall County.

Another way of looking at an early voting poll is to see it as an election center. The idea is advocated by TACEO. Legislation has been introduced in the state House and Senate for election centers.

If the bill becomes law, it would permit as few as one voting center for every 10,000 people.

"Four would be appropriate for Marshall County," Wright said. "Any resident could vote at the centers."

Sullivan County Elections Administrator Jason Booher is the secretary of TACEO, an organization with 600 members.

"For most counties," Booher said, "it will also cut the cost of holding an election."

Sullivan County employs 280 people to work at election precincts, but if the bills sponsored by Sen. Ken Yeager and Rep. Bill Sanderson become law, Booher anticipates being able to cut that down to 100, or fewer, election workers. Instead of having 25 election precincts on Election Day, Sullivan County might have nine.

The bills are drafted to be permissive legislation, Booher said. Local leaders could decide how many election centers would be established.

A pilot project could be conducted for the primary in May 2014, he said. To start that, favorable votes from at least four of five members of a county's five-member election committee would be needed. Another super majority would have to agree on where to locate election centers and how many are needed. Once those steps are taken, a county's plan must be submitted to the to state coordinator of elections.

Booher said he thinks the legislation has a good chance of becoming law, but adds, "It's not a certainty. People are resistant to change."

Voting centers are used in Indiana and Colorado.

"Precincts go back to the day when people knew each other by face," Booher said.

If voting centers replace precincts, at least one confusing situation might be prevented, he said. Now, someone voting early might tell a relative where he or she went to vote.

If the relative goes to the election office where early voting is conducted instead of the precinct, Booher said, "Then they've got to be sent to the precinct and a lot of times they don't show up."

The legislation would have election commissions strategically locate voting centers through out the county.

The bills are Senate Bill 907 and House Bill 703.