After a unanimous vote from the elections board Monday morning, Cherokee County will have just 28 voting precincts instead of the 42 now in operation, which will cause many of the county’s almost 140,000 voters to cast their votes at a new polling place.
The board approved the changes to take effect in the 2014 general primary election, but to leave the final decision on which election the changes will be implemented in up to Cherokee County Supervisor of Elections and Registration Janet Munda.
Munda said after the meeting Monday the roll-out of the reduced number of precincts could end up waiting until 2015, if a special election ends up being needed before the 2014 general primary. Munda has previously said a runoff could be likely in the District 14 state Senate race hitting the polls Nov. 5.
“If we had something of that nature that happened,” Munda said, “there’s no way we could be ready for this.”
Another reason the changes could end up being pushed back, she said, is if she doesn’t have “100 percent confidence” that all the kinks have been worked out of ElectioNET, a new statewide voter registration system being implemented.
But whenever the changes take place, Munda is hopeful the county will save money with the plan.
Munda said, in recent years, Cherokee County has endured unnecessary costs for running polling places on Election Day with low voter turnouts because many have already cast their ballots.
“That seems to be the preference of the people, by the trends we’ve seen,” Munda said. “In 2012, it was a 53 percent turnout in early voting. It’s a big number. And you’ve got these people sitting there on Election Day twiddling their thumbs.”
Overall, Munda said she expects Cherokee County to save about 20 percent a year on elections.
“With a presidential election, you’re probably not going to save a lot, because you’re going to have to deploy as many machines, a lot of workers,” Munda added. “But when there are special elections and runoffs, it’s going to have huge savings.”
For elections board member Frankie Shepherd, cost was also a factor in choosing to support the precinct reduction.
It will also help to ensure voters in the county’s cities will go to the same polling place for any election and reduce the number of split precincts in Cherokee County, she said Tuesday.
Shepherd said it looks like these goals will be accomplished without disenfranchising voters in general and without making anyone travel too far to cast their ballot on Election Day.
“The changes were not that drastic as far as miles were concerned,” she said, adding that the most affected precinct was one in rural northern Cherokee County, where some voters will have to drive about 13 miles to vote.
But Shepherd said those residents are likely used to traveling because of their isolated location.
“Most of those people come down a distance to get their groceries,” she said.
The vote Monday morning came after several residents came to the elections board’s last meeting in early October and expressed concerns that the changes could negatively impact voters.
Those concerns included general confusion about where a voter should report to cast their ballot and potential overcrowding during larger elections at smaller precincts.
To deal with the confusion of sending a large number of voters to new precincts, Munda said her office will be working to get the word out with mailed voter registration cards and other methods.
Then, on Election Day, because “You know you’re not going to reach everybody,” Munda said signs will be displayed at the closed precincts, along with color-coded maps to show voters to their new polling place.
Munda said she has also suggested to the elections board that extra early voting sites be opened up in larger elections to handle any potential congestion on Election Day at the smaller polling places.