Precincts or Vote Centers

When policy makers and election officials have to make choices about how to run elections, cost considerations are often an important part of the process. Some counties have touted the vote center approach—where a voter can vote at any of a comparatively small number of voting locations across a county—and its potential to reduce costs by cutting down on the number of voting locations and poll workers.

However, Brian Newby, elections director in Johnson County, Kansas, recently shared his thoughts on the pros and cons of shifting his county to vote centers from the more standard precinct-based voting, in which voters must cast their ballot at a particular polling place based on where they live. Newby was skeptical if similar savings would be realized.

That’s because in Johnson County, the elections office currently gets the use of the vast majority of its polling place locations rent free.

In the 2008 general election, for example, there were 284 polling locations. Of these, 234 were free, and the rent on the other 50 totaled $5,000. Vote centers need to be larger to accommodate the number of voters that come through compared to a precinct-based polling place. Newby speculates Johnson County would need to rent larger facilities, likely in hotels. In that case the rent costs could go from $5,000 to around $200,000.

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