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St. Clair County consolidates voting precincts. It could save thousands of dollars

Guadalupe Hernandez, of Fairmont City, deposits her ballot into a vote collection machine on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, during the 2022 Primary Election at the Fairmont City Community Center in Fairmont City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Guadalupe Hernandez, of Fairmont City, deposits her ballot into a vote collection machine in June 2022 during the 2022 Primary Election at the Fairmont City Community Center. The Canteen 1 and Canteen 8 precincts in the majority-Latino village were combined in the move.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Ahead of the 2024 primary, St. Clair County has consolidated its 190 voting precincts down to 149 to comply with a change in state law. It will also cut county spending on elections.

The St. Clair County Board voted at its meeting Monday night to eliminate 41 small precincts and merge them with others because the Illinois Election Code now states that a precinct should include around 1,200 registered voters. The state law used to call for between 500 and 800 voters per precinct.

The eliminated precincts are located in Belleville, Canteen, Caseyville, Centreville, Marissa, St. Clair, Stookey and Sugarloaf townships.

Fewer precincts means fewer polling places to rent and staff with election judges, so the move could save the county an estimated $30,000-$40,000 a year — or more, according to St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook.

In odd-numbered years with only one election, the county has budgeted an average of almost $200,000 since 2018 to pay for judges, one of the largest expenses for elections. The cost is doubled in even-numbered years with two elections.

After the precinct consolidation, about 75% of voters in the county will be able to vote on Election Day in the same place they did before, Holbrook said. But about a quarter of voters will have a new polling place for the primary election eight months away, on March 19.

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Holbrook and elections supervisor Laura Kaemmerer said the clerk’s office is working to make and mail out new voter registration cards, which will tell voters if their polling place changed.

“We will try to keep it, just as we have before, to the most convenient location for those people,” Holbrook said of polling place changes.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern noted many people are using early and mail-in voting rather than voting at the polls.

“The polling places now don’t get near the demand, and so that’s why you can merge (precincts) and still not overwhelm,” Kern said.

A little over half of voters cast their ballots early in the last presidential race and a little over a third in the last gubernatorial race, according to Holbrook.

The Illinois Election Code includes an exception that allows some small precincts with less than 1,200 voters to remain unchanged: every township has to have at least one polling place, Holbrook said.

County board members Courtney Moore, D-District 7; Steve Gomric, D-District 8; Ken Sharkey, D-District 11; Steve Reeb, R-District 13; Scott Tieman, D-District 17; and Richie Meile-D-District 25 didn’t vote on the precinct consolidation because they were absent from Monday night’s county board meeting. All of their districts include portions of townships where some precincts changed.

The St. Clair County Administration Building on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in Belleville.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Clair County Administration Building in May 2023 in Belleville. The county board voted to consolidate voting precincts to comply with state law and save money in elections.

East St. Louis precinct changes

The city of East St. Louis, which has its own elections board, also made changes to its precincts in response to the new state law.

Kandrise Mosby, executive director of the East St. Louis Board of Elections, said the board voted July 13 to consolidate the city’s 25 precincts down to 13.

Mosby said the move will result in some savings for the city of East St. Louis, but she hadn’t calculated exactly what it might be.

The East St. Louis Board of Elections also plans to mail voters new voter registration cards to alert them to precinct and polling place changes, according to Mosby.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.