Winfield and Ark City will have just one polling place each when election season rolls around in 2014, Cowley County’s chief election officer Karen Defore said Thursday.
All voters in Ark City will cast ballots at Central Christian Church, 206 W. Central, and all Winfield voters will cast ballots at First Christian Church, at the corner of Ninth and Alexander. The change will drop polling places in the county from 18 to 11 and is very likely a long-term adjustment.
Both churches currently serve as polling places but will have more staff and machines to handle the increase in voters. Election officials expect computerized voter rolls on electronic tablets - rather than in traditional roll books - to also help speed up the voting process.
“We’ll probably end up overstaffing the first time,” Defore, who also is the county’s clerk, said. “We’re trying to go over scenarios of all that could go wrong and prepare for it.”
The change means the county will no longer have polling places at the Agri-Business Building, Church of the Nazarene and Presbyterian Manor in Ark City. Gone, too, will be Winfield polling locations at First Church of the Nazarene, Baden Square, Hunter’s Cafe and Grandview United Methodist Church in rural Winfield.
Former Grandview voters who live in Rock Creek Township will now vote at the Udall Community Building. Fairview Township voters will vote in Winfield.
West Crestwell residents will now vote at Central Christian in Ark City.
Later this month, election officials plan to mail notification of the changes to each active voter in the county - that’s about 19,000 notifications. Defore said her office is required to regularly reach out to voters, so the cost of the mass mailing was already in the election budget.
The idea for centralized polling places in the county’s two largest cities began budding in February, when voters in a Winfield city commission primary all voted at the county courthouse.
Turnout was very low, due to the weather and other factors, but Defore got a glimpse of how operating a single polling place could work more efficiently.
“It was really easy to manage it,” she said. “And if people had questions it was easy to have someone right there to address them.”
Defore said she doesn’t expect the change to cause much of an issue for voters. Most places in Winfield and Ark City are within 10 minutes of the polling places she said, so travel should not be a problem.
With advance balloting on the rise significantly, Defore doesn’t foresee an issue with providing everyone who wants it an opportunity to vote. The 2014 election cycle seemed best for making the switch because it is a midterm year and not a presidential election, which draws more voters.
Once the election season is complete, officials will evaluate the effectiveness of the new plan.
Defore said First Christian in Winfield was chosen because of its available interior space and the abundance of parking. Central Christian in Ark City has less available parking but is centrally located and has a large climate-controlled gym area for voting.