Fifteen years ago, the Ken-Ton School District went from one polling place to three for annual budget votes, School Board elections and the occasional referendum.
On Tuesday, a public hearing will be held about going back to one. The hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Kenmore East High School, 350 Fries Road.
The 1998 decision by a former School Board to expand polling locations was precipitated by residents’ complaints about crowds and parking congestion at Hoover Middle School on Thorncliff Road, the sole polling site. The thinking was that more locations would make it easier for voters and would lead to a larger turnout.
“That clearly didn’t happen,” School Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro said Thursday.
The number of votes cast on the annual budget in May 1998 – the first year additional polling places were offered at Kenmore East High School and the Philip Sheridan Building – was down 901 from the year before. Voter turnout exceeded 1997’s count of 6,650 during five of the next eight years, only to fall again during a special election in 2005.
It hasn’t been close since. In fact, turnout generally has been less than half of the 1997 benchmark.
“I can tell you this: We saw that even in Central New York,” said Mondanaro, who worked in districts there before coming to Ken-Ton in 2007. “I think you’re going to see that was a trend.”
The prevailing wisdom identified demographics and voter complacency as reasons, he said.
School Board President Bob Dana is among those who support the change.
“My feeling is we should go back to one” polling place, he said at the Jan. 8 board meeting, when polling places were discussed. “I think we’ll save some money.”
Exactly how much money is unclear, however.
Several years ago, the Erie County Board of Elections stopped charging school districts to rent voting machines. For Ken-Ton, that fee totaled several hundred dollars a year.
For the 2012 annual vote, District Clerk Christine Ljundberg identified the following expenses: roughly $2,525 for poll workers; $2,160 for off-duty police officers who provided security at polling places; $219 in food and beverage costs; and about $1,427 for buildings and grounds personnel who manned parking lots.
Advertising can also add several thousand dollars to voting-related expenses. The cost of legal notices depends on their length and in which publication they appear. There also are mailings sent to district residents.
Hoover Middle School is the location of choice for the board president and superintendent, largely because of its central location and accessibility. The district’s bus garage no longer is adjacent to the eastern end of school grounds, meaning faculty and staff could park there without the parking problems that drove voters away, the superintendent said.
Further, Mondanaro said, a single site would mitigate school safety concerns, since students are in the building for several hours during polling days.
Though Tuesday’s board meeting is a budget work session, the School Board may vote on the polling site issue. A public referendum isn’t required.