This morning's Fort Wayne Gazette has a story about the Allen County, IN Election Board's failure to agree August 3 on how to reorganize the County election structure in the wake of severe budget cuts.
I have written elsewhere about the new normal in election administration occasioned by the state and local fiscal crisis nationwide. Allen County's debate is a perfect case study of all the challenges that arise when budget cuts become stark reality.
The story suggests that the cost savings expected from Allen County's election offices are especially significant:
While most county departments were recently advised to cut 2012 budgets by 8 percent, the election board's budget is to be cut by 17 percent and voter registration by 27 percent.
One new option available to the County is to eliminate the separate voter registration office and consolidate all voting functions within the single, bipartisan Election Board. The statute permitting this consolidation, however, requires unanimous approval from the Election Board and that didn't happen Wednesday, as the Board split 2-1 on partisan lines on the question of consolidation.
The two Republican members, seeing the need to make the cuts described above, supported the consolidation because it would save approximately $100,000, noting that the County is about $300,000 short of the funds it will need to run the 2012 election.
The lone Democratic member, however, supported the idea of consolidation in 2013 but believes that merging the two entities in a Presidential election year is premature and could jeopardize plans to expand other innovations like electronic poll books and satellite early voting as well as increased poll worker training.
These kinds of disagreements - with or without the partisan split - are almost certainly to be repeated time and again across the country as more communities feel the effect of the new normal.
In Allen County, the Election Board's failure to agree on a consolidation plan means the issue of budget cuts goes back to the County Commissioners - who may or may not share the Board's concerns about the impact of cuts on the elections process.
One needn't have watched the debt-ceiling drama in Washington to know that budget cuts are likely to be a constant fixture for years to come. That means election officials everywhere are going to have to revise their mindset to consider citizens not just as voters but also as taxpayers.
What this means for the timing and nature of election changes - a process on full display Wednesday in Allen County - will be another, albeit smaller source of drama in the months and years to come.