You might have to drive a little farther or wait in a slightly longer line when you vote Tuesday, but the vote centers you’re casting ballots at will cost about one-third of what the county used to spend on an election.
In 2010, the county paid more than 500 poll workers to staff more than 100 voting sites. This year, 21 vote centers will be run with about 125 people.
That means the county will spend about $35,000 this year for staff, compared with $91,000 in 2010. Costs to train staff and provide supplies for vote centers has gone down, too.
Voters can cast their ballots at any vote center in the county. Under precinct voting, residents voted at an assigned site near their home. The county switched to vote centers in 2012 to give residents the added convenience of being able to vote when and where they want but also because of the money that could be saved. Fewer polling sites means fewer workers and less expense.
The county opened extra early voting sites the week before the election because, since starting vote centers, the overall staffing costs are still much lower, Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne Misiniec said. Although she couldn’t put an exact amount on how much the primary would cost because of some expenses such as part-time help to move voting machines, she said it would be significantly lower than the nearly $250,000 spent in 2010.
In order to make the switch to vote centers, the county had to spend about $136,000 in one-time purchases to buy electronic poll books and digital signatures pads, which are required by the state.
The county also is paying about $100,000 this year for election services from Election Systems and Software, but that’s an expense paid every year for the vendor to program ballots, set up and test voting machines and tabulate results.
The county is spending less this year than it did in 2012 because one vote center was dropped and the election board reduced the number of days for early voting from five to three, Misiniec said. The early-voting sites were cut back because the election board expected a low turnout for the primary.
The savings from staffing were definitely one reason the county decided to switch to vote centers, although the additional convenience for voters was also a major benefit, said Commissioner Ron West, who was on the county council when the switch was made.
After a four-year test period in three counties, state legislators passed a law in 2011 allowing counties to switch to vote centers. Johnson County switched in 2012 and is one of 16 counties using vote centers this year.
Johnson County also will not need to replace as many voting machines the next time they are purchased, West said. Instead of needing more than 400 machines that can cost thousands of dollars each, the county could purchase about 250. The election board is shopping for new machines since the ones in use no longer are being produced, although members haven’t made any decisions on when they’ll buy those.
In the past, the county had to take out a loan to buy new machines, which possibly could be purchased with savings next time, West said.