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Longer hours mean more cost

In two months the county will hold its first primary since 2012.Then, election officials had a pretty good idea of what the bill for that would be. For the one coming up in May, right now it is anybody’s guess.

That’s because of a directive from Secretary of State John Husted that in-office absentee voting hours will be extended. It’s a mandate that officials from all 88 counties can’t ignore.

“Now we have to do it,” Craig Allen, chair of the Lawrence County Board of Elections, said. “We have to follow a lawful directive of the secretary of state. It will cost us more money.”

Voters in Ohio can cast ballots either in the polling booth on election day or apply to vote absentee. That application allows them to vote absentee two ways: by mail or in the election board office.

“All county boards of elections are instructed to adopt the following as their regular business hours in order to ensure fair and uniform days and hours across the State of Ohio for in-person absentee voting for the May 6, 2014, Primary Election,” the directive from Husted states.

Those hours will now be:

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday from April 1 to April 4; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, April 7; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, April 7; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday from April 8 through April 11; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday from April 14 through May 2; and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 3.

In 2012, counties had the option to follow these hours or remain using regular office hours, which is what Lawrence County did at that time.

“If you wanted to do it, you could,” Allen said.

And in 2013 Lawrence County chose not to. Now it has no choice but to follow the new directive on increased hours.

Extended hours means more money spent in salaries for the four full-time staff of the office in the courthouse ­– elections director, Cathy Overbeck, deputy director, Toni Trosper, and the two assistants. When anyone votes, whether it is in-office absentee or at the polls there has to be at least one Republican and one Democrat present during the process.

With the new hours coming when more manpower is needed to process absentee applications and training sessions for poll workers, there will be a greater need for additional part-time help that is paid at the rate of $11 an hour.

“The law requires all voting to be handled by an equal number of members of two major political parties,” Allen said “One Democrat and one Republican at all times. Starting April 1 we have to deal with absentee ballot applications and the training sessions. We get the requests for the absentees, send them out and process those. There’s the training sessions. All that is going on at the same time.”

As to the extended costs, Allen is unsure of what the additional costs will be. “We should have some reasonable estimate by the middle of April,” Allen said.

The board of election gets its entire budget from the operating portion of the county’s general fund, of which 99.5 percent of it has already been appropriated for various county obligations.