Honey, I Shrunk The Precinct: Louisiana Deals With Voting Machine Shortage as “Micro-Precincts” Proliferate


[Image courtesy of jameystegmaier.com]

Louisiana has always been a little bit different.

The state’s governmental structure and laws reflect its French roots, meaning that counties are “parishes” and the courts follow a civil code that owes more to Napoleonic influences than English common law.

It’s not surprising, then, that the state’s reaction to the recent need to redraw precinct lines would result in a situation I haven’t seen or heard about elsewhere – a proliferation of tiny (REALLY tiny) precincts that is stretching voting machine inventories painfully thin. From the Advertiser:

When local governments developed new election districts after the 2010 Census, they drew so many small precincts that it forced the state to purchase additional voting machines and limit the number of machines at each precinct.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler said Wednesday that local governments went overboard.

“We have precincts with one voter,” Schedler told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Governmental Affairs committees. “Several have three or four.”

In Lincoln Parish, local officials increased the number of voting precincts from 42 to 102. “There’s no way the population doubled,” Schedler said.

“It’s just out of control,” said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, reacting to Schedler’s report.

The abundance of new precincts forced the purchase of 100 new voting machines, said Commissioner of Elections Angie Rogers.

In the next election, 39 parishes where 399 precincts are located will have only one voting machine each. The precincts will have paper ballots on hand in case a machine malfunctions.

This issue is likely the result of a combination of extreme creativity in drawing local boundaries combined with a complete lack of creativity in devising new precincts. In other words, it appears that local authorities have decided it’s not a problem to cut precincts into tiny pieces but its is a problem to reassemble those pieces into precincts that work for local election offices.

Missing from the story is any indication of whether these micro-precincts will be combined physically into larger polling places – but even if this does occur it puts a burden on election officials to make sure each voter is getting the right ballot. I’m also pretty sure that a one-person precinct isn’t going to do much for the privacy of the ballot if that lone ballot ends up being the reported election return (returns? Can it be plural if there’s just one vote?) for that precinct. I’m also not sure what you do about keeping a micro-precinct open and fully staffed for the full 14 hours of Election Day.

I’ve talked a lot about how America’s electoral geography resembles a stained glass window – but even I have to admit you tend to lose the effect if the pieces of glass are too small to see.

2 Comments on "Honey, I Shrunk The Precinct: Louisiana Deals With Voting Machine Shortage as “Micro-Precincts” Proliferate"

  1. Contrary Bear | October 5, 2012 at 8:26 am | Reply

    I’m surprised there were new machines available for purchase.

  2. Don’t know the exact fact set in LA, but local elections officials generally tend to default to precinct boundaries – which are generally made up political lines with little to do with election administration – to avoid having precinct splits (voters in the same precinct voting on different contests / candidates) to ease management challenges. However, technology (particularly DRE, but PCOS too) gives elections officials capability to better match voters to their respective ballot styles (the voter’s correct combination of contests/candidates) outside of a “traditional” precinct set-up. Good option for future reforms to lower costs and best serve voters may be CO-style “vote center” which allows local political geography (precincts) to exist through larger-scale locations.

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