Opinion

Paying for the primaries

It is regrettable that the Chester County Election Commission will have to combine some polling sites for the upcoming Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. Unfortunately, that may have been the only choice.

Under the plan approved by the election commission this month, residents in three predominantly black wards will vote in the Ward 3 polling site, where white voters outnumber black voters. That has sparked a backlash from local black leaders who claim the move will deter black and elderly voters from going to the polls.

Sadly, they might be right. It is difficult enough to convince voters to cast ballots on election day without asking them to go to an unfamiliar polling site that is farther away from where they live than the one they are used to.

Elderly voters especially, often wary of change and with less access to transportation than younger voters, might be discouraged from voting in the primaries. We hope churches, party organizations and other groups will offer to take voters to the polls.

But while we see these difficulties resulting from the commission's decision, we don't see it as a conspiracy to suppress the black vote, which some dissenters have suggested it is. For one thing, commission director Earl Moore is black.

"I personally take it as an insult that my office, the staff or the commission would in any way try to deter or alter the African-Americans' right to vote," Moore said recently. "I think the simple fact that I'm in this position should give some peace of mind to African-Americans that we are sensitive to the needs of the black community."

For another thing, no candidates really would benefit from deterring black voters in primary elections. Attempts to discourage the black vote usually occur in general elections, when the assumption is that African-Americans vote mostly Democratic.

But the apparent need to combine polling sites to save money is troubling. In this case, the commission hopes to save taxpayers more than $26,000 by combining the four precincts.

The General Assembly approved a plan in June in which the state would pay $2.2 million to run the primaries. South Carolina had been the only state in the nation where political parties were expected to pay for their own presidential primaries. But the prospect of South Carolina holding the first Southern primary contests in January no doubt helped prompt lawmakers to opt for state funding.

But, as Chester County's dilemma indicates, state lawmakers might not have allotted enough money to properly mount the primaries. In York County, 13 of 63 precincts will be combined with other voting locations in an attempt to save money. And other counties around the state no doubt are in the same predicament.

The decision to hold the Democratic and Republican primaries on different days also was needlessly wasteful. State Republicans will hold their primary on Jan. 19, while the Democrats will hold theirs on Jan. 26. If both primaries had been scheduled for the same day, many precincts could have accommodated voters from both parties, saving the cost of hiring poll workers and utilities.

And because counties around the state submitted county budgets before primary elections were scheduled for two separate days, many have come up short.

We hope state lawmakers and officials from both parties will tally the cost statewide of holding these two primaries so they are better prepared for the next election.

IN SUMMARY

State has not provided enough money to pay for two presidential primaries.

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