COLUMBIA — Double-check before you head to the polls next Tuesday, or you might find yourself in the wrong place.
Boone County will only have half as many polling sites as last November.
To find out where you're supposed to vote on Tuesday, go to showmeboone.com/CLERK and click on "Find your polling place." You also can call (573) 886-4375.
On Tuesday, residents will vote at 45 different polling locations, down from 90 in November and 79 in April 2008. County Clerk Wendy Noren said that the number of locations for April elections has held steady between 70 and 75 for almost a decade but that she has reduced that number for financial and logistical reasons.
Noren predicts a much lower voter turnout on Tuesday, somewhere in the 10,000 to 11,000 range. That would be roughly one-eighth of the voters that cast ballots in November.
Along with the lower turnout, the reduction in locations is intended to save money for the cash-strapped jurisdictions — namely city government and the Columbia Public Schools — that will foot the bill. Noren said the real financial burden wouldn't be eased until the state could reduce its total number of elections. She's pushing for legislation that would cut the number of prospective election dates each year.
Some of the most consolidated areas include Centralia, Ashland, Hartsburg and the MU campus, where four locations have been narrowed to one because of students' record of low turnout for interim elections.
Noren said about 80 percent of Boone County voters will see only one issue on the ballot, the race for the Columbia Board of Education, which generally results in lower turnout. She expected turnout to be higher in areas of the Second and Sixth Wards in Columbia because of city council races, and in Centralia where competition has been intense for the mayor's seat.
In more rural areas of the county, voters will be electing people to town councils and school boards as well.
Noren said polling locations throughout the county have been harder to find and keep in recent years. She attributes this primarily to bad behavior by folks from major campaigns electioneering near some locations.
"It's gotten worse the last five or six years in big elections," Noren said. "It's been a very difficult problem for us in finding and keeping polling places."
Noren bills each jurisdiction on the ballot based on the proportion of voters eligible to vote in their election. Columbia schools will be responsible for around 70 percent of the county's bill this year. The city of Columbia will owe about $26,000 for its share, City Clerk Sheela Amin said.
Noren said that, given the financial struggles of these and other county jurisdictions, she "made the decision that we just couldn't afford to be wasting money on additional polls."
"You always have to balance voter convenience with some of these costs," Noren said.
"When I looked at this in November I just couldn't justify charging them as much money as it costs when most voters were only going to have one thing on their ballot," Noren said. "I did not believe in this economy that this was the best use of the taxpayers' money when historically this was such a low-turnout election."
The city of Columbia already has paid the county $26,324 for the election, but the final number will not be determined until later. For last April's election, the city paid $34,985.
Columbia Finance Director Lori Fleming said the city appreciates Noren's effort to keep the bill down, especially because November's election went over the city's budget.
"We love it if she cuts the costs," Fleming said. "We thank her for cutting the costs because November cost much more than what we budgeted for, so it just helps us make up the shortfall."
Fleming said the city's election budget, which was projected at $116,730 for fiscal 2009, shifts as needed. Amin said the budget is now $196,185.
Columbia Board of Education Vice President Steve Calloway said he appreciates the savings and trusts Noren's judgment, but he also worries about voter access.
"I like the idea of saving us money," Calloway said, "but my immediate thought on reducing the number of polling places is more from a public service standpoint."
The school district's widespread and accessible facilities make excellent locations for polls, Noren said, but in the past officials ran into questions about parking, disruptions and security at school-based polls.
"It is an issue when we have polling places in the schools because it creates a potential security problem," Calloway said.
In November 2008 and again in November 2009, the school district scheduled a day off or a teacher work day on election day to make it easier for the county to use schools as polling locations. Both Noren and Calloway support such an arrangement, and Calloway said he appreciates Noren's efforts to reduce the number of polls held in local elementary schools.