Sedgwick County residents could have more places to vote next year under a proposal from the election office.
Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman seeks $26,228 in next year’s budget to set up and operate 10 more polling locations by the August 2018 primary election for governor and other statewide offices.
The county cut its number of polling places from 208 to 62 in 2006. The reduction stemmed from a 2002 federal law to make polling locations more accessible to people with physical disabilities. The law left the county with fewer potential polling places that had the wider doors and wheelchair ramps.
There are now 64 polling sites. But the county has more than 61,000 more registered voters than it had in 2006.
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“This is to provide better access to voting and to reduce Election Day lines,” Lehman told county commissioners at a budget hearing this month.
A little more than half the money would pay for about 70 poll workers, some of them part-timers, to staff the new locations.
The rest would pay for rental costs, supplies, moving expenses and mileage costs for poll workers, according to the budget request.
It’s going to be a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle at first.
Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County election commissioner
The proposal is an attempt to make no voter wait more than 10 minutes to vote.
“This is a step toward…that goal,” according to the proposal. “By adding Election Day polling locations, this will reduce pressure on existing locations.”
Lehman said the county would review voting data to figure out where to place any new polling sites and look first at the 10 sites with the most voters assigned to them. About half of the current locations have more than 5,000 voters assigned to them.
“We’re going to start at the top,” Lehman said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle at first.”
Lehman said she hopes to add more polling locations in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.
“We’ll just start slowly adding them each year,” Lehman said. “We do not believe that we can find enough polling locations and get that done in one year. So we’re just going to do it incrementally.”
It’s unclear how many polling locations would be added by the 2020 election.
“(But) I would be surprised if we landed any more than 100 polling locations,” she said. “We will continue to monitor it and adjust it as needed.”
County Manager Michael Scholes will present a recommended budget on July 12. The proposal would need to be approved by county commissioners when they adopt a budget Aug. 2.
It’s not the cheap solution but it is a good solution.
Jim Howell, Sedgwick County commissioner
Commissioner Jim Howell said the current number of polling locations is inadequate “for a county this large.”
“It’s not the cheap solution but it is a good solution,” he said. “It adds convenience (and) it reduces the amount of time to get in and out of a poll site.”
Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said the proposal is “great if we can afford it.” But he said the election office is a significant source of new funding requests for the 2018 budget.
“It’s a precarious situation,” O’Donnell said. “But I’m sure we’ll work with … Lehman and come up with a compromise on her request.”