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Curious Cbus: How Are Polling Locations Chosen?

Nick Evans
WOSU listener Tim DeHoff asked how voting locations are chosen for elections. He votes at Tuttle Community Center, more than a mile from his home.

For one Franklin County resident, Election Day raises an interesting question: How exactly do we pick polling locations, anyways?

Tim DeHoff lives in Clintonville, but I meet him at the Tuttle Park Community Center. The park runs along the east side of the Olentangy River just north of Ohio State’s campus. It’s where DeHoff goes to vote.

“I’m curious how we determine polling locations and where you vote,” he explains, “because I’ve already passed on my way here two polling locations that are in my neighborhood. But I come all the way down here, and it just didn’t make sense how they choose them.”

Elections boards manage voting at the county level across Ohio, and they cut the map into precincts of about 1,400 registered voters each. The Franklin County Board of Elections determines local boundaries for all 863 of them and then tracks down about 360 polling locations—or about one polling location for every two and a half precincts.

People have been voting at the Tuttle Community Center for years. Brian Hoyt from Columbus’ Recreation and Parks department says it’s a perfect fit.

“You know, we call them community centers for a reason,” he says. “They’re part of the community, and Election Day, you can’t get more community than that.”

Credit Gabe Rosenberg / WOSU

Election officials look for polling locations that are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, centrally located and easy to find. It goes without saying, there must be plenty of parking and space inside for voting machines.

Usually that means schools or churches, but sometimes they wind up in some pretty unexpected places - like a car dealership in southwest Columbus.

Two weeks ago, workers dropped off voting machines at Hugh White Honda. Manager Don Smith says if they can get cars through the doors, voters should be a piece of cake.

“We have been a voting location here at Hugh White Honda since about ’07 I think,” Smith says. “That’s when we did a kind of a letter-writing campaign. I had heard that they were having trouble with ADA- handicap accessible places for people to vote, especially this area.”

But most areas don’t have businesses volunteering, so elections officials have to go looking for polling locations. That’s the case in DeHoff’s neighborhood.

Franklin County elections spokesman Aaron Sellers acknowledges a different polling location, Glen Echo Presbyterian Church, is closer to DeHoff's home than Tuttle.

“This area is problematic because of its age and there aren’t a lot of good locations big enough to accommodate all that,” Sellers says.

He explains Glen Echo can only handle two precincts-worth of voters, while Tuttle can handle four.

But with locations scarce, planners are pushed toward some strange decisions. The church sits near the border of DeHoff’s precinct and the one just south of it, but neither precinct’s voters actually use it. In fact, voters who live in the precinct where the Tuttle Community Center is located don’t vote at there, either.  They go to Newman Church on Lane Avenue, instead.

Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
Voting machines arrive at a car dealership in southwest Columbus, which has been a polling location for about 10 years.

DeHoff understands finding locations is hard, but he’s still a bit mystified at where people are sent on Election Day.

“There seems like there should be—maybe see if they can break it up?” he wonders. “Because it is hard to get volunteers to do anything. Like even when they get paid it’s still hard to get volunteers.”

“So I don’t—it just seems like a mess,” he says, frustrated.

Sellers explains everyone shifts southward in DeHoff’s neighborhood. If he and his neighbors in precinct 18B went to the closest polling location, people living north of him would likely end up with an even longer trip to vote than DeHoff has now.

“Yeah, it’s one of those things that for every action there’s a reaction, and if [18B] was pulled into that location at Echo, that would take somebody out of the Echo Church and you would have somebody that might be farther away from a location than they currently are,” Sellers says.

Information on where you vote can be found at the Franklin County Board of Elections website—they note some third party sites have been sharing incorrect information.

Early voting ends Monday at 2 p.m., and polls are open Tuesday from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Got a question about how the Columbus government works? Ask below for our Curious Cbus series and we may investigate the answer.


Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.