County’s precincts weigh in on election needs
WORTHINGTON -- With minimal grant dollars available to replace aging election equipment, Nobles County is asking the county's precincts to weigh in on the future of conducting elections.
WORTHINGTON - With minimal grant dollars available to replace aging election equipment, Nobles County is asking the county’s precincts to weigh in on the future of conducting elections.
According to Nobles County Township Association Chair Paul Langseth, the Aug. 1 meeting of all townships discussed several topics, but focused on the county’s election equipment. The work session allowed the county’s townships to discuss their options regarding conducting elections to hopefully provide the county feedback about their intent moving forward, he added.
“We want to keep the taxes low as possible, but you need to be able to vote,” Langseth said.
Langseth said the townships discussed their options, including doing mail-in balloting and combining or sharing precinct polling places. According to Nobles County Auditor/Treasurer Beth Van Hove, there is a cost-saving attraction to each option.
Sharing a poll place allows two or more precincts to share a polling facility. Each precinct must have their own counting machine, and must provide a minimum of three judges.
Only three judges are necessary at a combined polling site.
All Worthington precincts are combined polling places, as well as the city of Lismore and Lismore Township.
Nine of the county’s 20 townships share a location with another precinct. Six of the county’s 10 cities, barring Worthington’s precincts, share a polling place.
Counties can also opt to do mail-in balloting, which is where townships or cities may realize a bottom line cost savings, Van Hove said.
“You don’t have to pay your judges to be there for the full day,” she said.
With most polling locations opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m., precinct locations are required to pay judges for 13 hours. Each precinct determines a judge’s wage, but it must be at least minimum wage, Van Hove said.
Townships that do mail-in balloting still have expenses. They are required to pay postage and material costs. The county prepares the materials to be sent out, but the precinct must hire judges to count at the Nobles County Government Center after 8 p.m.
“So you maintain the township integrity, but you don’t have the need for a polling location,” Langseth said.
Van Hove said there was significant savings realized during last August’s primary election, which would have required a judge to cover a polling place where between three to five voters showed up.
“So that’s where I think you’d see the biggest savings - when you have low voter turnout,” she said.
Bloom Township and the city of Kinbrae are currently doing mail-in balloting.
The need to host the discussion came after the legislature approved $7 million in a new a government finance bill with the intent to replace aging election equipment in precincts across the state. The funding announcement has other counties across the state contemplating the future of its elections.
Jackson County Auditor/Treasurer Kevin Nordquist said the county is considering using grant funding to help purchase autoMARK equipment, which assists people who are unable to mark a ballot due to physical impairments or language barriers.
“Ours is terribly outdated and not really reliable at this point,” Nordquist said.
The state is offering a 50 percent match with the county for the mandatory equipment as opposed to a 75-to-25 percent for electronic poll pads.
“Which seems kind of backwards because the autoMARK is required,” he said.
He added that he is encouraging precincts in Jackson County to consider mail-in balloting. That option would allow them to cut or eliminate judges and the need for the autoMARK equipment.
“Combined, it would be a pretty decent number (in savings),” he said.
Cottonwood County Auditor/Treasurer Jan Johnson said that their election equipment, which dates back to 2006, is working well for the county’s small precincts’ needs. She said the county is still determining if there are precincts interested in updating equipment with the grant funding.
“In most cases, the assisted voting machines in some cases have probably never been used but by the judges to test them,” she said.