The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 19, 2013

Cambria mulls voter precinct reductions

Sandra K Reabuck
sreabuck@tribdem.com

EBENSBURG — As part of ongoing efforts to cuts costs, the Cambria County commissioners have petitioned the county court for permission to reduce the number of voting precincts to 127 from 165, a decline of 38.

The consolidation of 76 districts into 38 will mean a savings of $39,988 per election, or $79,976 a year, county Solicitor Thomas Leiden said.

“Elections precinct costs have escalated significantly and generally are not proportional to the number of (voters). Such costs include but are not limited to the wages of election board members, rent for the polling place and the costs for delivery of supplies and unique ballot printing,” the solicitor said.

President Judge Timothy Creany will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. Feb. 1 on the proposed consolidation of the precincts. Residents and officials from the affected districts as well as political party leaders may speak at the hearing.

Heath Long, county Democratic chairman, said that the party’s district chairmen are reviewing the proposed changes to determine how they would affect voters.

Long said, however, that with the rural setting of many of the precincts, traveling to polls could pose problems in adverse weather conditions. He recalled a 12-inch snowfall the day before the primary last April.

“We don’t want distance to become a barrier for voters to go to the polls,” he said.

But he said that the party realizes that some consolidation may be necessary as the county loses population and needs to economize.

Robert A. Gleason Jr., former county chairman and now state GOP chairman, pointed to the reality of the situation.

“From a political point of view, I don’t see a problem with it,” Gleason said. “It’s happening everywhere. It makes a lot of sense. It saves money. It may be a little inconvenient for a few people, but it’s a sign of the times and a sign that Cambria County is losing population.”

County employees are posting notices of the changes in at least five public places in each district affected.

The commissioners first talked about eliminating some of the districts a year ago, pointing to a loss in population through the years and a decline in the number of registered voters in some districts.

In precincts where the voter registration is low, there frequently is a shortage of residents willing to serve on local election boards, Leiden said.

“No new boundaries are created by this consolidation, though the boundary between each pair of consolidated districts is eliminated,” he said.

If approved, 15 of the new districts would have more than 1,000 registered voters, with 1,429 the highest number in the joining of Westmont No. 4 and No. 6, according to the petition.

Leiden said, “A number of neighboring counties maintain many precincts with over 1,500 voters – Blair, 11; Bedford 5; Centre, 26; Clearfield, 6; Indiana and Somerset, each 5; and Westmoreland, 21. Several precincts in neighboring counties function with over 3,000 registered voters.”

Currently, Cambria has 11 precincts with 1,000 or more voters, including Richland No. 5, where many students from Pitt-Johnstown are registered, Shirley Crowl, election director said. With 1,468 registered voters, Richland No. 5 currently has the highest number in the county, she said.

The consolidation plan would not create great traveling distances for any voter, Leiden said.

Under the proposed changes, the number of precincts in the city of Johnstown would shrink to 18 from 28, while Westmont’s would drop to three from six.

Nine municipalities in which there are two voting precincts each would end up with only one under the consolidation.

They are boroughs of Cresson, East Conemaugh, Ferndale, Gallitzin and South Fork and the townships of Barr, Gallitzin, Susquehanna and West Carroll.

The last consolidation approved here was in 1997, when three county judges approved reducing the then-202 precincts by 37 to the current 165.

A year later, in 1998, the county’s plans to consolidate further came to a screeching halt when three judges refused to OK the merger of eight districts into four.

The judges said that any minimal savings in the proposed merger were outweighed by an inconvenience to voters.

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