Commission hears plan to consolidate precincts

PARKERSBURG – A plan to reduce Wood County’s 86 precincts to 69, reducing election costs and increasing the number of precincts that would be accessible to those with disabilities, was unveiled Thursday to county commissioners.

Wood County Clerk Jamie Six, along with Melody Ross, deputy clerk in the voter registration office, presented the plan, which Ross said will not change existing district lines for the county commission, board of election, legislative or council districts. Vienna City Council candidates run at large so they would not be affected.

“As we have seen, the dynamics of election day have changed over the years, with the increase in early voting numbers and addition of community vote sites. When I first came into office, the county had 119 precincts, in 1990 that was reduced to 99 and in 2000, it was reduced again. I challenged Melody and Elizabeth (Beary) if you could get the number down to 69 the board of canvass would be saved money, we’d only have to handcount three precincts instead of four, and the handcount usually takes longer than the board rulings on the provisional ballots. They came back with a plan,” Six said.

The proposal would save an estimated $13,125 in election expenses, in addition to staff time.

Six said if the plan is approved as proposed, some of those savings can be shared in the form of pay raises for pollworkers.

“If you give the proposed pay raise, from $175 to $200, the county would still see a savings of $6,732.50. Giving the pay raise will be an incentive to attract new pollworkers, and help the county to keep established pollworkers,” Six said.

“With these changes, the number of registered voters at the consolidated precincts will be higher so there is also the potential for higher turnout and more work for the pollworkers,” Ross said.

Ross presented a table showing a breakdown of pollworkers in other Class I counties of the state. Among 13 counties, Wood ranks ninth. The highest paid pollworkers are in Jefferson County, who receive $300 for election day service and training. The lowest is Monongalia which pays $150 for election day and training. Supplies commissioners and those pollworkers who serve as escort for the supply commissioners are paid slightly more for additional work.

“We have met with officials from Vienna and the city of Parkersburg, they reviewed the proposals to make sure they did not affect any current district lines and representatives of both parties’ executive committees were provided with the proposals as well,” Ross said.

“Making these moves will also mean 11 precincts that are now not handicapped-accessible would go down to seven if the proposal is approved as presented,” Ross said.

The commissioners gave the clerk’s office the go ahead to begin the next stage in the process, which is to begin advertising notices for meetings during which the proposal will be presented and the public will be allowed to comment.

“There will be other savings realized because we won’t need as many different ballot styles and related costs,” Six said. “We estimate it would be well over $7,000 in savings per election you would save if the proposal for the pollworker pay raise is granted.”

“My committee has reviewed it and we love the fact it would save the county money and anything we can do to motivate more people to serve as pollworkers, is good. It is getting more and more difficult to get people to serve,” said Harold Brown, chair of the Democratic Executive Committee. The political party executive committee provides the names of pollworkers and alternates for the election. “We’d appreciate your support on this,” Brown told commissioners.

Six said voter registration numbers are up somewhat because his office can no longer purge voters for failure to vote as quickly. Under current law, after four years of non-voting, the voter is listed as inactive but remains on the books for another three years, for a total of seven years. So, although it may appear there will be more voters at the polls, in fact, the numbers may not be that high.

Parkersburg City Clerk Connie Shaffer said the proposed changes will not change the city’s current district lines. “We’re very happy with what the county has done,” she said.

Vienna City Clerk Carla Starcher said Vienna’s council is elected at large so districts were not factor for that race.

“But we are thrilled to work with the county, and I know what a tough job it is to try and find pollworkers,” Starcher said.

“I do know it’s hard to find pollworkers and I would be in favor of doing the pay raise, especially since it’s not costing the county anymore and we would still be saving money,” said Commissioner Steve Gainer.