Costs to conduct the primary election will be much lower than in previous years, which will save money for the cities and towns who have to pay the bill.
Vote centers will be staffed with the minimum amount of workers on election day, early voting hours were sharply cut back and a limited amount of sites will be open.
With turnout expected to be about 7 percent of the 54,600 eligible voters, the county has made changes to keep costs low. The primary should only cost about $14,000. By comparison, the primary election in May 2014 cost $36,000.
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Cities and towns foot the bill for the municipal election, so the cutbacks should be met favorably by city and town councils in Greenwood, Franklin and Whiteland that will be cutting checks to pay for pollworkers and equipment. Overall expenses to cities and towns should also be significantly down from past years since the county has switched to voter centers and now has fewer overall workers to pay, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne Misiniec said.
Big savings won’t be the case next year, since turnout for the wide-open 2016 presidential election is expected to be huge. The county is already planning for more sites, more workers and more voting hours next year for the big national election, Misiniec said.
Election Day vote centers cost $735 each to staff with an inspector, two judges and two clerks, who sign in voters and pull up ballots on the voting machines. The county faces additional costs from the election machine vendor.
The county switched to vote centers in 2012 and one of the main reasons was due to the potential cost savings. Johnson County typically has about 20 vote centers during a countywide election, compared to more than 100 sites when the county used precinct voting.
For example, the county paid about $70,000 to run two elections with vote centers in 2014 compared to about $180,000 for the same type of election in 2010.
This year, 13 sites will be open for voters in Greenwood, Franklin and Whiteland. Those three communities cover about 60 precincts.
Previously cities and towns would pay for each precinct being opened in their area, but now will pay a percentage of the total cost based on how many of their voters participate in the election. For example, if voters from Greenwood make up 50 percent of all the ballots cast this spring, the city would pay half of the cost of the election.
“This way it will be divided by the actual ballots cast and how much the actual cost was. The math should work out so we’re not paying near as many people as we would if we had the precincts, even with early voting,” Misiniec said.
In other years, the county pays all of the election costs and 2016 is expected to be the most costly election since Johnson County made the switch to vote centers, Misiniec said.
The county first used vote centers during the presidential election in 2012 and polling sites were overwhelmed with lines that were sometimes hours long. Since the county had never used vote centers before, officials were guessing at how many sites and workers would be needed. The experience showed that the county obviously didn’t have enough to handle the crowds of voters. About 59,000 voters — 61 percent — cast ballots in fall 2012.
Nothing’s been decided yet for 2016, but Misiniec is mulling double staffing at many of the county’s most popular sites, adding five to 10 new vote centers for election day and running two weeks of early voting at satellite vote centers instead of one week that’s been done in the past, she said. Those increases could easily push the cost to more than $60,000 per election.
“There will be so much media nationally that they’ll get out and vote. I really feel that people will want to be involved in that election. They’re going to want to have their say so,” Misiniec said.
The county is saving money by opening fewer vote centers and paying fewer poll workers this spring, due to an expectation that fewer than 10 percent of voters will come out. Here’s what the primary costs:
Courthouse early voting: $160 per day
Weekend/satellite early voting: $520 per site per day
Election Day vote centers: $735 each
Days of courthouse voting: 5½
Early voting sites: 3
Election Day vote centers: 13
Estimated total cost for primary: About $14,000