The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 8, 2013

Blending polling places

We give high marks for precinct merging

— We applaud Cambria County officials for introducing a plan to merge as many as 38 voter precincts, bringing a savings of as much as $80,000 annually.

The amount is nothing to sneeze at for a small government that, at times, appears to be operating “paycheck to paycheck.”

Nine smallish municipalities could see their voters channeled into one precinct, instead of two, and in one case, South Fork Borough, it could mean eliminating a polling site that sits an estimated 400 feet from the other.

As Cambria’s population continues declining, meaning fewer voters, precinct consolidation makes a lot of sense.

We also commend the process, which has included publicly announcing in advance the precincts targeted for mergers, and then convening a three-judge panel to hear testimony from voters with concerns or objections.

Plaudits also to the nearly dozen people who took the initiative to attend a hearing last week and air their thoughts.

We understand residents’ reluctance, especially senior citizens, to give up their precincts, and we understand those concerned about cuts disenfranchising voters. Or should we say additional voters, considering some of the embarrassing voter totals the Cambria-Somerset region has registered in the past few years?

Some of those addressing the judges’ panel cited longer traveling distances, although in most cases it would mean just a few extra miles or a few extra minutes.

Others worried about inclement weather and poor driving conditions, although the primary and general elections fall in late May and early November, respectively, not normally times for major ice and snowstorms in these parts.

And still others lamented longer lines at polls, something that easily could be corrected with additional voting machines.

Unfortunately, area primary elections sometimes attract only 20-some percent of registered voters, with some smaller precincts servicing fewer than 100 people.

Considering rental and poll worker costs and the time and effort involved, having so many precincts just doesn’t make sense.

As Commissioner Mark Wissinger pointed out, the county’s population stands at 144,000, down from 163,000 in the 1990s. And projections are, he noted, that the trend won’t be reversed anytime soon.

We believe the commissioners’ plan to be a solid one both financially and organizationally, and we believe the judges will approve at least a majority of the changes.

That’s something most voters should agree on.

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