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Redistricting maps raise costs, confusion

Daily News (Bowling Green, KY) - Saturday, January 28, 2012
Warren County officials are grappling with new state House and Senate district boundaries, which they project will cause voter confusion and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in new precinct costs. 

The 2010 census necessitated some changes, and Gov. Steve Beshear signed a law last week that redraws district lines that basically criss-cross state and local districts in Warren County. The House and Senate approved the boundaries before they went to the governor for his signature. 

But the new map has left local officials puzzled as they try to reconfigure voter precincts a few months before the May primary. 

“We’re not sure they realized the financial implications to the taxpayers and to the county,” Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon said. “We’re not sure they realized the implications to the voters – the inconvenience and confusion it’s going to cause the voters.” 

Under the new district lines, many voters will be forced to venture to different poll locations and some will travel farther than they’re used to. Some new precincts have no homes in them, and others have one or two residents, Warren County Clerk Dot Owens said. 

The new lines split subdivisions, so some next-door neighbors will be in different precincts, Owens said. The new lines even split some houses, and county officials are not sure how that’s going to work. 

But they do know that it’s going to cost money. 

Under the old boundaries, Warren County had 64 precincts, but there could be more than 100 under the new district lines. And that number could range from 100 to 150 or more, officials say. 

For now, the number of new precincts – and which voters are in those precincts – is unclear. But the clerk’s office must know by Feb. 9, the deadline for filing precinct information with the state, Owens said. 

Each precinct can cost up to $20,000 to prepare for elections. That cost includes voting machines, staff, building rentals, voter ballots and other items, Owens said. 

Local officials don’t know where those additional funds will come from within their budgets, but taxpayers ultimately will pay for the extra precincts, officials say. 

And it causes logistical headaches. For example, up to 20 precincts might have to locate in one school gymnasium, Owens said, and those places are crowded enough with about three precincts. Also, officials must find handicapped-accessible voting spots for each precinct, a task that can be difficult, she said. 

County election officials must provide a voting machine and venue for each precinct, even though some new precincts might have as few as one – or even zero – voters, Owens said. 

“There may be only one person coming in to vote (in a precinct),” she said. “And there’s nothing we can do about it.” 

State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, says he plans to speak with other state officials to determine whether the new maps can be tweaked to fix some of the problems in Warren County. 

And House Republicans have filed a lawsuit challenging the new districts. 

But “legally, it’s the law now,” Richards said. “Those lines were drawn by staff members ... who may not have understood how the precinct boundaries were affected by the district boundaries.” 

Each county is required to submit local district lines to state legislators so, when they make statewide changes like this, they can create balanced districts in each county. But it appears those who drew the new district lines did not consider the puzzle they were creating in Warren County, Buchanon said. 

“Some of this, I think is just carelessness,” he said. 

Now, county election officials are scrambling to determine which voters are in which precincts and figure out how much additional work, space and money will be needed. 

They’ll be ready by election time, Owens said, but the confusion and inconvenience might discourage some people from voting, she said. 

“You can’t be proud of costing the taxpayers more money,” Buchanon said. “You can’t be proud of causing more confusion when (people) vote.”