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County’s savings add up with vote centers

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Inspector Sandy Lawson asks if a voter has any questions after setting his machine up for the proper ballot Thursday at Jonathan Byrd%u2019s Cafeteria in Greenwood.
Inspector Sandy Lawson asks if a voter has any questions after setting his machine up for the proper ballot Thursday at Jonathan Byrd%u2019s Cafeteria in Greenwood. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

Fewer than half the number of poll workers will be needed this election than in the past.

Johnson County began using vote centers this year, which allow residents to cast their ballots at any of 22 centers in the county instead of at one assigned location.

The switch has greatly reduced the number of voting sites and people needed to work them because the county no longer has to set up a site for each of the county’s more than 100 precincts, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne “Susie” Misiniec said.

Changing to the vote center system also required new equipment that allows election workers to ensure voters have not already voted elsewhere in the county and get them to the voting machines faster than in previous elections, she added.

Misiniec said the changes cost the county money up front to buy new equipment but will save money long term by requiring fewer poll workers.

In the most recent countywide general election, the county needed 535 workers for 107 precincts. But after redistricting this year, the number of precincts in the county grew to 134, which would have required 670 workers for elections, Misiniec said. Precincts are areas to which voters are assigned based on where they live and the government services they receive. When population increases, the county is required to redistrict to ensure precincts don’t grow unevenly.

With vote centers, the county needs 170 workers on Election Day, with five workers each at seven of the vote centers and nine workers at each of the other 15 centers, Misiniec said.

While the county will save money by paying fewer workers on Election Day, she said, it spent more on workers in early voting than in past elections.

Before vote centers, the county needed workers for early voting only at the Johnson County Courthouse. This election, the county added seven other locations where residents could vote the week before the election, with a total of 40 workers needed each day.

Misiniec said she still expects the county to save money on the total costs for poll workers this year, but she is unsure how much.

The county also spent $128,000 on new equipment and training for the vote centers, she said.

State legislation requires counties with vote centers to use electronic poll books with an online ballot instead of paper, so workers at each vote center can make sure voters have not already cast a ballot elsewhere, Misiniec said.

She said workers use small touch-screen devices to look up voters as they come in, which is faster than using paper books because they can type in the voter’s name instead of searching through multiple pages.

Sandy Lawson of Greenwood has worked on Election Day for the past 27 years. She said the electronic books allow workers to find and check in the voter in about 20 seconds, instead of searching through the paper books.

All poll workers were trained in how to use the equipment with the goal of getting voters through lines quickly, Misiniec said. Most of the workers who will be at the vote centers learned how to use the equipment in training for the primary and went through training again in October, so they will be prepared on Election Day, she said.

“That was one of the reasons we wanted to start (the vote centers) in the primary, so we had them trained before this election,” Misiniec said.

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