Vote center pilot program – an idea worth pursuingPolicyPoliticsVirginia

Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Woodbridge), Senator R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), and Senator John Miller (D-Newport News) have each introduced similar bills permitting a pilot program in which election officials will be able to experiment with vote centers that consolidate two or more precincts for voting in low-turnout party primaries.

The summary for Anderson’s bill, HB 1599, explains that it

Authorizes the State Board of Elections to provide for a pilot program in which localities may establish vote centers for use in primary elections instead of having to operate a polling place for every precinct in the locality. A vote center will consist of a location where voters from two or more designated precincts may vote. The State Board shall publish a report on the program by August 15 of any year in which a vote center is used. The provisions of the bill expire on December 31, 2016.

This is a great idea.

In the June 2012 Republican Senate primary in Charlottesville, only 427 out of more than 29,000 registered voters cast a ballot. In one precinct, only one voter showed up all day — even though that precinct had to be fully staffed from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., just like all the others.

Similarly, in the 2012 Republican presidential primary in Charlottesville, only 750 voters (out of a possible 28,264) cast a ballot. One precinct — fully staffed for 14 hours — saw only 9 voters all day.

If the City of Charlottesville had been able to operate vote centers for those two elections, we would have been able to save taxpayers about $25,000 or $30,000.

Using vote centers to consolidate operations in low-turnout elections like this will save a lot of money and manpower and will be a real morale-booster for election officials around the Commonwealth.

The vote-center idea is a win-win-win for voters and taxpayers, for local election officials, and for political parties and candidates.

Voters win because of increased convenience on primary election days. Taxpayers win because the cost of these elections diminishes considerably. In Hanover County, for instance, the general registrar estimates savings of more than $40,000 just in paying election officials (not including facilities rentals or voting equipment expenses) by consolidating that locality’s 30-plus precincts into four vote centers at the high schools.

Local election officials win because it becomes easier to coordinate the placement of pollworkers, reduces “election fatigue” among the aging election official population (estimated nationwide to be 72 years of age), and provides flexibility in planning for elections that routinely attract only about 4 or 5 percent of voters.

If these advantages and cost savings do not obtain in certain counties or cities, they can choose not to exercise the vote-center option.

Candidates and political parties win because it reduces the chance that their election-day resources will be spread too thin. Instead of having to deploy pollwatchers and campaign workers to 10 or 20 precincts on primary election days, they can send them to just one or two places. This saves campaign money for better use in the general election.

In talking with members of the General Assembly and their staffers in Richmond about these bills yesterday, the phrase that came up over and over again was “no brainer.” Any bill that saves money, offers voter-friendly conveniences, and helps local Electoral Boards and registrars do their jobs is one worth passing.

Senator Deeds’ bill on vote centers is designated SB 906; Senator Miller’s similar bill is SB 989.

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  • Nathan Miller

    All for it. But…it makes too much sense, so it will never happen.