Getting some of the money out of (holding) elections

Tinkering with election laws can be tricky. Voters are understandably sensitive to changes that feel restrictive, and Georgia must get federal approval for any tweaks.

If Secretary of State Brian Kemp gets his way, any election reforms will be deliberate.

Last month, in a column asking if it makes sense to hold runoff elections that draw as few as 5 percent of the voters, I mentioned Kemp was forming a committee to weigh election changes. After naming its members, he sat down with me to discuss some of his ideas.

First, here’s Kemp’s charge for the group: “Keep the elections secure, make them more secure, but also look at cost savings.”

And remember: Be patient.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see what the Legislature is going to tackle this year. And things they don’t, I think they’ll have a good place [Kemp’s committee] to throw things for us to look at over the next year. …

“And I’ve cautioned a lot of the legislators: Don’t make a rash decision on runoffs,” he said. “If we’re going to change something, make sure…it has a good, long-term solution and there are not any unintended consequences.

“I think you have to be careful about trying to save money,” he said, so you don’t weaken “a good secure process.”

Suggestions are already surfacing for making our elections less expensive. For runoffs, Kemp said, one option may be replacing precincts with a handful of “vote centers,” similar to what’s used for early voting.

“Like in Clarke County, where I live,” he said, “we have…24 precincts. If you had four vote centers around the county, obviously there are cost savings there.”

Another example he mentioned is consolidating precincts for all elections, as Muscogee County recently did.

Until this year Muscogee County, home to Columbus, had 48 precincts. Each one required a poll manager and two assistant poll managers — along with voting machines and all the necessary paperwork.

For the Nov. 2 general election, the county used just 28 precincts. Turnout was higher than usual for a midterm. But, said county elections chief Nancy Boren, polls weren’t overcrowded for two reasons: Early voting continued to increase, and the county shifted spare voting machines to typically high-turnout precincts.

In doing so, it cut its paid poll-worker staff on Election Day to 84 from 144 in past years. Boren said she’s still tabulating the cost reduction. But even though some of the money went to pay workers more, she said, “the savings will be noticeable.” Additionally, the county expects to reduce some equipment costs.

Getting federal preclearance, as required by the Voting Rights Act, took less than a year.

Boren, who serves on Kemp’s new committee, cautioned that not every county could do what Muscogee did. But my quick calculations indicate metro Atlanta is ripe for similar change.

If Fulton County put as many registered voters in each precinct as Muscogee now does (about 3,600 on average), it could reduce its polling stations to 145 from 333. DeKalb County could realize a reduction to 110 from 189.

That would mean 500 to 1,000 fewer Election Day workers in Fulton, and 200 to 400 fewer in DeKalb. In both cases, citizens would have to travel only minimally farther to vote.

Good luck to Kemp’s committee. But whatever it finds, metro Atlanta needs to take a good look at Muscogee’s model.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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43 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly Deluxe

December 31st, 2010
12:13 pm

There are reasons we have runoffs. One reason is that in 1966, the Governor’s race was decided in the Legislature. They changed the law then to give the decision to the people. Another reason is that for about 100 years (longer in some areas), we were a Democratic Party only state. If you won the primary, you won the general election. A candidate wth strong opposition could get people to run and draw support away from his strongest opponent. With no runoff, he could split the opposition and go in with a less than majority vote. This did happen sometimes, especially in local races.

The only thing that has really changed is that in most areas, Georgia has gone from one party Democratic to one party Republican. In my area, I still have no real choice which primary I vote in, if I want a say in my local elections. Used to I had to vote in the Democratic primary and now I have to vote in the Republican primary. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to vote, in the majority of my local elections.


December 31st, 2010
12:33 pm

Anytime anyone in politics makes any change at all, it is almost always for political gain. So, we must take a very hard look at any changes in election laws as it almost certainly will benefit one of the political parties over the other.


December 31st, 2010
12:40 pm

So in Muscogee County instead of driving 3 miles to vote, some people will have to drive 60 miles round trip. Yep! That’s logical!


December 31st, 2010
1:19 pm

One thing would be to require all special eletions not involving candidates, like special sales tax, to take place on the November ballot.

Hillbilly Deluxe

December 31st, 2010
1:31 pm


That’s an excellent idea but they have them in the summer because they prefer low turnout for those. Much easier to get them passed.

Michael H. Smith

December 31st, 2010
1:36 pm

Unintended consequences are easy to overlook when considering a changes to voting. First and most important question they should ask is will what we do discourage any legally registered voter from voting? Any answer other than an absolute resounding “NO” means they should not make any changes. You really can’t put a dollar price on assuring this Republic remains truly representative of its’ citizenry.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

December 31st, 2010
1:55 pm

We could put all of the fraudulent Fulton County voters in one precinct but they wouldn’t fit, just sayin…


December 31st, 2010
2:05 pm

Lots of talk about security yet we are still saddled with unauditable, no paper receipt electronic voting machines that for all we know are changing every vote. Then there is the issue of voter turnout. While I certainly applaud the decline in voter turnout as a sign that the citizens are withdrawing their support for the criminal enterprise that is government, maybe the fact that we have such losers running has something to do with it as well. We see no calls to make more political offices non-partisan nor calls to elminate the horrible and restrictive ballot access laws that make Georgia the worst state in the nation for those not chosing to run under the banner of the two-faced war party (the democrat/republican party). Maybe if voters thought that there were other choices besides those pre-selected by the status quo party leadership of the two failure parties they might be interested in going out to vote. Just saying.

Actually given how bad 2011 will likely be economically we might see the complete bankruptcy of the federal, state and local governments and then maybe we can get back to solving our problems and addressing our needs with market-based solutions rather than corrupt political “solutions” than never solve anything except the issue of who will be doing the oppressing and who will be the oppressed.


December 31st, 2010
2:59 pm

Amen, brother. Wish I’d said that


December 31st, 2010
3:15 pm

Sorry to say, most all of the comments on this issue make sense, but will not see change due to the current mind-set of politicians. If the change is not to their specific benefit, they will not see fit to implement any change. Pure and simple majority-rule is a great theory, but will never see its way past the committee it is brought before for consideration. All will be status-quo…….


December 31st, 2010
3:27 pm

1) I drive past one voting place to get to ‘my’ voting place. There’s at least two others that are closer to me. Consolidating four or five into one will possibly make my drive (or walk) to another voting center shorter.
2) Getting rid of runoffs will most definitely never allow any third party to get on the ballot or win. The only way to get people to STOP voting for the same old same old will be to have a runoff system, otherwise, we get to be some place like Minnesota, or worse, only ever have one party win in each district.
KEEP runoffs – as bad as they are, the other way is worse.
3) Oh, I don’t like the idea of only using the ‘early voting’ places…then I would pretty much have to go downtown. Unless you make parking free, I would be completely opposed.


December 31st, 2010
3:42 pm

I see taking more jobs from people who need them is going to help? personaly I don,t trust the voting cards reminds me of an ATM machine……………….the more money you put in you win,how bout less politicians? major savings there. Go Tea Party.


December 31st, 2010
3:50 pm

If you want to save money on elections, why not eliminate party primaries, or make the parties pay the state for the cost of running them?

Neither the Dem nor Rep party is an official government entity, yet the state pays for them to run their candidate election process. Why? If they want to hold a primary election, fine, but they should reimburse the state for the cost to do so, or run it themselves as they see fit. Otherwise they should hold a caucus or party convention. Sticking the taxpayers with this cost strikes me as wrong.

If we insist that there should be a state funded candidate selection process (to make the process more “inclusive”), then all candidates who qualify, regardless of party, should be lumped into one pool and the top two selected for the general election. This eliminates the need for runoffs for the primary or general election. It might also allow a candidate to be elected who is not beholden to either party, or who refuses to sign a party loyalty oath.


December 31st, 2010
3:59 pm

@Lostinwoods: hear hear! Great ideas!


December 31st, 2010
4:02 pm

Whatever changes Brian Kemp proposes will be quickly followed by a Cynthia Tucker column that Republicans are trying to stop minorities and poor people from voting.


December 31st, 2010
4:48 pm

Claude, good chance she would be right on that.

Michael H. Smith

December 31st, 2010
4:52 pm

I do agree with all who are in support of a paper record in conjunction with our electronic ballot being cast. A paper trial is necessary. It will be more costly, however, I reiterate my previous statement in assuring a truly representative Republic.

Michael H. Smith

December 31st, 2010
4:58 pm

Yeah, comrade Cynthia (including Jay) sure got voter photoID right. LOL


December 31st, 2010
5:13 pm

Let the political parties pay for the primary elections. Why should taxpayers pay one dime for the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian
Parties to hold primary elections to select their candidates for office.. The parties can pay for, administer and conduct the primary elections or they can hold conventions. Keep the government, and taxpayer money, out of it.


December 31st, 2010
6:08 pm

I’m a voter in Muscogee County, and I approve of the new precincts Nancy Boren brought about. Almost half of the votes cast in the General election and in the runoff were cast in “early voting.” Many like the early voting because it allows the voter to decide when he or she will go vote. In Muscogee, we had about a month of early voting at the Government Center and the last week or so had three additional locations, and had two Saturday voting days. If you don’t want to vote early, then go to your precinct on Election Day as usual. The consolidation of precincts did not make anyone have to travel more than 1 or 2 miles further than before. All in all, it went very well, thanks to Nancy and her staff.

get out much?

December 31st, 2010
8:07 pm

Maybe Georgia could do something innovative and leading edge, like electronic voting. Corporations use it for proxy votes and for those of you worried about “fraud”, please tell me how electronic voting is any less secure than an absentee ballot.


December 31st, 2010
9:51 pm

TN does not do many run offs..The person with the most votes wins…Usually not a 51%….Seems to work OK

Unpainted Huffhines

January 1st, 2011
1:02 am

Paper ballots from scratch paper counted by volunteers who are filmed by volunteers with their cell phones. Practically every cell phone has enough memory to film every vote count in every precinct may times over. Money does not need to be an issue at all. In fact, all the ID’s are already checked by volunteers in most areas already. The computer machines cost billions of taxpayer dollars and both parties have been badly harmed by questionable voting machine results. Paper ballots could be cut from paper tossed out at landfills. For pencils, ask a golf course to donate. If it was planned properly, a fully valid democratic republic could be pulled off for next to nothing. Save money, let true private citizens, not corporations that by law, owe a legal duty to their share holders to maximize profits.

As for online voting like proxy on stock, sounds like an inexpensive and efficient idea that could easily track any fraudulent votes.

barking frog

January 1st, 2011
1:24 am

Just do it like they do the judges, nonpartisan top guy in november.


January 1st, 2011
11:01 am

As a note, the Libertarisn party in its bylaws opposes any publically-funded primary process. First because nobody should have to pay for something they don’t support on principle, and also because they firmly believe that nobody who does not actively support the party as a member should be allowed to decide the candidate. Unfortunately most states REQUIRE the party to go through the primary process in order to be on the general ballot. GA is quite open in that manner and most Libertarian candidates are chosen in state convention by the dues paying membership. Absolutely no reason why the other parties couldn’t do the same. It is delusional to believe that the candidtes you get to choose from aren’t pre-selected by the party leadership anyway. The primary process is just a sham to deceive and to get the taxpayers to provide a soapbox for concensus building before the general election.

Rafe Hollister

January 1st, 2011
11:18 am

What we need is an instant runoff. If three or more people are running for one office, vote for your choice. A second vote should be taken at the same time, giving you a choice, if there is a runoff, how do you vote, between A &B, A&C, B&C. No need for a runoff election then, just count the potential votes.


January 1st, 2011
12:18 pm

Here is a suggestion: Let folks like Nathan Deal pay for elections they cause. He stood for re-election, got re-elected, and shortly afterward resigned (to avoid charges) to run for governor. His little subterfuge cost my county alone $67,000 for that little special election. It should have come out of his “fortune.” You see, he had to have known he was going to run by that time, but chose to defraud the voters so he could suck that congressional teat a little longer. THEN, just ahead of the investigation, he “oops” decided to quit and run for Governor. If it cost my little county $67,000, what was the cost in total?

So, Kyle, if you want to save money, start THERE.


January 1st, 2011
12:34 pm

Gosh, Kyle, I’m surprised that you aren’t advocating a poll tax.

Ima Pol crook

January 1st, 2011
2:30 pm

Its a shame we elected a crook for Guv,ala Oaky Woods Purdue-now the corrupt jerk has thrown out the honest board members and replaced them with his political hack buddies!

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 1st, 2011
5:52 pm

Ten ships, 600 crew trapped in frozen Sea of Okhotsk

Rescue efforts are under way to evacuate more than 600 crew on 10 ships trapped in ice in the Sea of Okhotsk.

Why don’t they just wait for global warming to melt it, hahahahahaha, yeah, OK.


January 2nd, 2011
6:31 am

I haven’t seen any comments on redistricting. If we were to get rid ot gerrymandered districts, there would be a better chance of representative (fair) elections. However, by reducing the number of polling locations, you also reduce the number of voters willing to travel longer distances to vote. This will keep one party in power. I think we are seeing the one party system now that is limiting the effectiveness of good government.


January 2nd, 2011
11:53 am

“Saving money is goot! ”

From the author’s note to “Mein Pet Kampf”, which der Bush was reading on 911.

(Notice how I don’t hack, but give credit to material.)

talkin’ to you Clyde.

Michael H. Smith

January 2nd, 2011
11:59 am

No amount of gerrymandering or the lack thereof, will return the socialist liberals of the Democrat Party to any political significance in this state. They are out of touch and out of step with the voters.

Base bails on Democrats in droves

Real Athens

January 2nd, 2011
2:07 pm

Brian Kemp lives in Oconee County. He is dumber than a bag of hammers, don’t take my word for it, ask him a question.

If he has any idea, believe me it’s not his.

Even the good ‘ol boys around Athens can’t believe this fool could get elected dogcatcher. Republican Revolution indeed.

I think it’s hilarious, the party of Ike, Nixon, Goldwater — once known for it’s intellectualism has –turned into this in Georgia.

The Only Democrat in Roswell

January 2nd, 2011
3:11 pm

I vote at a school on Mimosa Street. Across the street, 100 yards away, another precinct votes at a church. For runoffs, we are relegated to trudging up stairs to a room on the 3rd floor–all dozen of us. The only people enjoying it are the paid poll workers.

I wish someone would explain to me how this arrangement makes sense.


January 2nd, 2011
4:03 pm

1. Make all elections non-partisan–obviates the need for democratic and republican primaries.
2. Hold all elections on Sundays-more participation, less chance of a run-off.
3. Require all public broadcast media to provide equal time for all candidates who qualify to run for office.

Polar ice cap.

January 2nd, 2011
6:41 pm

I report,

“Why don’t they just wait for global warming to melt the ice?”

According to the liberals there was a 50/50 chance the entire polar ice cap was going to melt this year. Just another bald faced lie from the biggest liars of all.

Its kinda like all that nonsense that they were saying about the polar bears were about to go extinct because of global warming melting their ice that they hunt off of. Then some science comes in and the scientists who study polar bears reported that the polar bear population tripled from 10,000 to 30,000 since 1950. Liberals never let the facts get in the way of their arguments.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 2nd, 2011
9:25 pm

This is a good one, a couple of scrawny, whackjob liberals helplessly regurgitating DNC talking points in the face of Republican reasoning and maturity-

Real Clear Politics Video

The Latest Politics, News & Election Videos

Rep. Bachmann Warns Against Raising Debt Ceiling

Anthony Weiner is an empty headed klown and Debby Wasserman is failed product of the public education system, what does it say of the people who voted for them?

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

January 3rd, 2011
4:21 am

WASHINGTON — Some Republican lawmakers said Sunday they opposed raising the ceiling on the nation’s debt without tackling government spending, and President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser warned against “playing chicken” on the issue. -Urinal

Only in the mind of the stooge liberals does raising the debt ceiling equate to a spending cut, just sayin…


January 3rd, 2011
8:00 am

Kyle–check out today’s VENT to see the hysteria you’ve created over the state of public education. There is a sudden effort to tie teacher pay to student performance, yet you advocate school vouchers. This seems contradictory and without evidence that either plan will serve kids any better.


January 3rd, 2011
9:34 am

“When you hand out $1 trillion in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus, that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect,” Issa said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sick ‘em, boys. Investigate and investigate and investigate. Don’t ever stop until every last corrupt Democrat is exposed. We elected you to put “the most ethical congress in history” in its place. (For you Obama voters, that was what Nanny Pelosi said after the mid-term election of 2006).


January 3rd, 2011
10:04 am

Kemp’s ideas and Wingfield’s portrayal of them seems fine on the surface. I do think they should consider consolidation of polling places VERY carefully. What you don’t want is political manipulation of the voting machine supply to suppress voting in precincts that don’t vote the way the Sec of State might desire. Not that it matters much. Except for the urban core of metro Atlanta and a few splotches outside metro Atlanta (e.g. – southwest GA, downtown Savannah, etc.), this is a one-party state again. Kind of ironic all the Confederate thinkers in this state are now Republicans! Lincoln would roll over in his grave.


January 3rd, 2011
3:34 pm

“I think you have to be careful about trying to save money,” he said, so you don’t weaken “a good secure process.”

Give me a break! Mr. Kemp needs to explain how in Cobb County on a one issue ballot in 2005 there were 285 “non-votes” recorded and the SPLOST tax passed by 114 votes.