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School elections examined



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November 10, 2010 - Just a few years back, when school districts were conducting their own elections, Lake Orion's cost a mere $4,000. Now that municipalities are required to hold elections, LO's price tag is upwards of $33,000.

What gives, asked School Boardmember Jim Weidman.

"The real issue is not that the election costing $30,000 is the school district's fault. In fact, it's the fault of the people conducting the election. We did it for $4,000. Why does the same election have to cost $30,000?" Weidman said, adding that Oakland Township, where LO school district residents cast 18 votes, charged the district $4,100 for the last election.

"That's a problem. It's the accountability of local government and no one has asked about it," said Weidman.

To bring local municipalities to the bargaining table over election costs, Boardmember Bob Gritzinger suggested charging them fees for using schools as polling places.

Weidman said, "We've extended our buildings at no cost to the township for elections on-going. Why can't we get that consideration in return?"

School Board President Mary Jo Burchart said one of the reasons for the price hike in elections is because of the increase in number of precincts to 15.

But even with keeping all 15 precincts, Weidman believes the price tag can still be slashed. He suggested one polling place for all the precincts combined; 85 percent of the votes cast are done so by absentee ballot, and to keep so many polling places open for 15 percent of the votes is absurd.

Orion Township Clerk Penny Shults told the Review in an earlier interview that such a move would result in voter confusion for both the May and subsequent elections, when voters were expected to show up back at their regular precincts. 

"I would have to mail notice to everyone that their precinct has changed just for that election, and there's cost involved with mailing," she said. "We showed (the district) it was not a substantial savings because of all the mailing involved."

Shults said she's done her best to reduce the district's bill. For example, the number of workers at each precinct was cut, and Shults, a salaried township employee, got involved with delivering and testing some of the equipment at the precincts.

"I was able to shave just under $3,000 off what the previous election cost the schools," she said. "We're doing our best to get (costs) down. I empathize with what they going though. We're all in that same situation of wanting to control costs."

But from the standpoint of holding elections, and making sure those elections are run properly, Shults said she intends to maintain the standard.

Boardmember Tiffany Weber-Phillips said she's interested again in moving to November elections, which could save the district money by rolling its election in with the general election.

But Weidman said the push by local clerks to move to November is a scam. He believes once the district agrees to joining in the November election, local municipalities will charge an even higher bill.

Boardmembers Weidman, Weber-Phillips and Janet Wolverton said they will approach the township again in the interest of reducing election expenses.

- Laura Colvin contributed to this report

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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