Counties concerned, frustrated about estimated cost of extra primary

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Finding poll workers also a concern for county board of election officials.

Area counties are frustrated over the estimated cost of an extra primary election, which will likely need to be held because there still aren’t new redistricted maps, and how they will find poll workers.

Each county recently submitted a required report to the Ohio Secretary of State that asked for estimated costs. Montgomery County conservatively estimated a second primary election would cost $432,500. Warren County submitted $250,000 and Butler County $350,000.

The total estimate for the state is around $25 million.

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The total cost is likely more. For example, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to send out new precinct and polling location notices.

“We’re going to have to pick up people, we’re going to have to pay more on another set of workers, we’re going to have the logistics of moving equipment around, ,” County Administrator Michael Colbert said, speaking at the county commissioner’s weekly workshop.

Early voting has begun for the May 3 primary election, but the ballot only contains statewide, congressional and local elections. Seats in the Ohio General Assembly are not on the ballot, because a new legislative district map is still being contested.

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The six-month map drawing process has dragged on as the Ohio Supreme Court has rejected three sets of maps. The court has repeatedly ruled 4-3 against the proposed maps, with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joining the court’s three Democrats in saying constitutional maps should be proportional — reflecting the 54% Republican-46% Democratic partisan breakdown of recent statewide elections.

An official second primary has not been set yet, though appears likely. It’s also not clear yet how the additional primary will be paid for.

“It isn’t county’s fault. We shouldn’t have to pick it up,” Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said.

The cost wasn’t the only concern. Officials at the workshop pointed out that many counties struggle to find enough workers to run one primary, let alone two. Colbert anticipates there will be a struggle in Montgomery County to get poll workers.

“We’re going to have to do an all hands on deck to try to get it,” he said.

With August being a time for vacations and the business of school restarting, commissioners also voiced concern about low turnout.

“That’s going to be depressed turnout,” County Commissioner Judy Dodge said.

The uncertainties for the upcoming primary elections is continuing to create more issues for the Warren County Board of Elections in addition to finding enough poll workers.

Elections Director Brian Sleeth said a potential problem for a possible August special election means he’ll have to find a new location for a mega location in South Lebanon where 13,000 people vote.

“After reading news stories about an August primary, they reached out to us and said the South Lebanon Community Center would not be available that day,” Sleeth said.

Warren County has more than 167,000 registered voters and climbing, Sleeth said.

While Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the cost for a second primary in August would cost between $25 million to $30 million. Sleeth said it costs $1,400 to run a precinct and with 175 precincts in Warren County, that will cost local taxpayers about $250,000 for a special election.

“We have had candidates calling about a new window to circulate petitions and new filing deadlines and voters calling to ask questions,” Sleeth said. “We’re struggling to get poll workers and we need another 95 Democrats to sign up. That is after the board reduced the number of poll workers needed, which we do for small elections.

“There are so many uncertainties as the ruling on the state maps is supposed to come on April 20,” he said.

Sleeth, who leads the Ohio Election Officials Association, said other county elections officials are having many of the same struggles.

“I have heard the General Assembly is considering additional funding for all counties to administer the election,” said Butler County BOE Deputy Director Eric Corbin. “I know the Ohio Association of Elections Officials has communicated the cost and I believe the County Commissioners Association has also been communicating the need.”

One of the biggest struggles for a countywide August election will be the recruitment of Precinct Election Officials, also known as poll workers. Most of Butler County’s poll workers return every election, but recruiting poll workers for an unplanned August election may prove to be difficult, Corbin said.

“Usually, August elections – if that is when the election date is set – are not countywide, so we can find enough workers. This year we need all our workers to come back during a time they don’t usually reserve for elections, and likely, many will be on vacation or have other commitments.”

Turnout could be low for an unplanned second primary so the Butler County Board of Elections is notifying voters via signs in the early voting room that some races are not on the ballot.

“For the second primary, we will be using social media to get the message out and relying on our local news partners to deliver accurate information by getting it from the source, the local boards of elections,” Corbin said.

There will be little time to prepare for a second primary, Corbin said. And there isn’t much they can do in advance.

“For example, we cannot make the ballot because we still do not know where the districts are and if the state will have to make any adjustments to the usual form of the ballot,” he said. “We are reaching out to vendors and other agencies or people who are involved in the election process to let them know there will be a second primary.”