Voting reform pressed as money-saver for Butler County
The cost of voting in Butler County varies widely by precinct, and the county's elections director said she'd like the state to change the way elections are conducted to reduce expenses.
“We need election reform. It could make holding elections much cheaper than it is,” said Election Director Shari Brewer.
The county will likely spend about $222,000 to run 89 precincts for the Nov. 4 general election, about the same amount spent on the May primary.
Brewer said she wants the state to give counties the authority to consolidate precincts or allow people to vote anywhere in the county, rather than only in their home precincts.
Pennsylvania election law requires a polling place in every municipality.
In one precinct in Adams, the cost per voter in May's primary election was $5.23. In Cherry Valley, a borough with 40 registered voters, the 12 primary votes cast in May cost $189.91 per vote.
“I would like to use the figures to present to the taxpayers as a way to justify to them and to our lawmakers that laws on how we administrate elections needs to change,” Brewer said.
Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not permit voting before Election Day, voting by mail and “no excuse” absentee ballots. In Pennsylvania, voters must give a reason for needing an absentee ballot, such as being out of town.
“If laws were changed to permit no excuse absentee ballots, it would permit voters a wider time-frame to vote and the convenience of not having to drive to the polls,” Brewer said.
The Senate this year passed a bill to allow online voter registration, which Erik Arneson, a spokesman for the state Senate Republicans, says has been proven to save money and create more accurate voter lists.
The House did not take up that bill, he said.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Cranberry Republican and chairman of the House state government committee, did not return phone calls.
The earliest Pennsylvania's legislature could pass any bill is January, said Arneson.
Brewer expects turnout in the general election to be between 40 and 50 percent, a figure that is based on similar federal elections in non-presidential years.
Arneson said counties have latitude in determining voter precinct boundaries.
Legislators have discussed no excuse absentee ballots, Arneson said, but taken no action.
In Pennsylvania, a change would require amending the state Constitution.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.