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Early voting begins for school decision

With some municipalities already casting early votes and others joining them in the next few days, the Shelby County election’s office is busy getting ready for the long-awaited school vote.
“It’s a surprise election in what’s supposed to be an off year,” said Richard Holden, Administrator of Elections the Shelby County Election Commission. “We have to do everything we normally do for an election, and we have to do everything for early voting like we do for Election Day.”
Early voting works by offering any eligible voter to cast a vote ahead of the Election Day. In this case, that’s July 16, when several Shelby County municipalities will ask residents to vote in favor of creating smaller, more localized districts than the all-encompassing Shelby County School district.
But in the case of early election, there are limited locations, times and dates. Arlington and Lakeland already held their early elections on Saturday, June 29. Collierville will begin its early elections Saturday at Collierville Church of Christ on Shelton Road. Other municipalities have varying schedules and locations.
That still means a lot of work for a system that starts several days before the designated vote. Holden said the election’s office has to certify machines, test for logic and accuracy, hire enough officials to man the stations (of which 50 percent must be Democrats, while 50 percent must be Republicans) and then train those workers. They also have two certified public accounting firms reviewing the machines to make sure they are ready for voters to cast their choice.
It’s a system that’s meant to help give people more time to vote,  with the idea that it will, in turn, increase turnout. It’s also one that can be very expensive, said Holden, particularly for an election in which there only is one issue on the ballots.
“With a special election, the turnout is completely unpredictable,” said Holden. “But in these cases, the cities pay for all of the costs.”
That’s the case, said Holden, because all of the municipalities where these elections will be held passed ordinances several weeks ago requesting the election. The cost for the cities varies and depends on predicted turnout and number of locations.
For example, all the volunteers who work the election polls are paid $30 for training and $100 for working the polls the day of the election. However, in the case of early voting, poll workers must earn a “living wage,” paid hourly for each hour each polling location is open, said Holden. In this case, that wage is $13.30 per hour.
The cities bear the rest of their costs in county personnel hours and voting certification, said Holden.
He also said the elections office would like to see a change in the regarding early voting, with the difference being an extended voting period rather than an early voting period and Election Day. That would help distribute the costs and efforts more evenly, he said.
“It would help redistribute when people participate,” said Holden.
Nevertheless, early voting is on this year. For eligible Shelby County voters, that means more opportunities to cast what could be a close decision because of expected lower turnout, said Holden.
Holden also said that the word “eligible” is key in this case. Some people who have students in a Bartlett school might live outside Bartlett. Those voters are not eligible on the Bartlett school referendum, he said. People unsure if they can vote in this election can check on http://www.shelbyvote.com. A list of polling places by address with Google map and early voting locations and hours also are available on the website.
Meanwhile, on Election Day, poll workers will allow anyone in line by 7 p.m. the opportunity to vote. Holden said he hopes to have the combined count from early and regular election voters on the commission’s website by 10 p.m. July 16.

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