The Cost of Controversy: Arizona Federal-Only Ballots Cost Nearly $15K Apiece in Tucson

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[Image courtesy of dalecarnegiewayaz]

Before all of the last-minute litigation over voter ID and early voting, this cycle’s biggest story was the fight between the federal government and the states of Kansas and Arizona over whether or not states can require proof of citizenship from voters using the federal voter registration form. As a consequence of that litigation, Arizona has gone ahead with a two-track registration system that requires some voters to use a federal-only ballot. Based on early reports, that will end up being a costly decision for localities like Pima County (Tucson). Tucson News Now has more:

The recent primary election 2014 chalked up a first: an unheard amount of cost.

Because of state law, every ballot cast because of the new bifurcated voting system, cost taxpayers $14,867. State law says a voter can’t vote in state elections until or unless they can prove they are a United States citizen.

The federal registration form does not require proof of citizenship. It asks only that the person swear upon penalty of perjury that they are indeed a US citizen.

For the feds, that’s enough.For the state, it’s not. However, the federal courts have ruled that the voters who use the federal form will be allowed to vote for federal offices even if they are barred from voting for state and local officials.

So, during the primary election, Pima County election’s officials had to print separate ballots for those who used the federal form to register. That turned out to be for five different parties even if there were no candidates for a federal office.

And it had to print enough to deliver to 288 precincts.The final cost for all of those ballots was $104,068.Seven voters used the ballots, four Republicans and three Democrats.

That breaks down to $14,867 per vote.

“Well certainly, elections can be a little expensive and the cost per ballot cast can be high at times,” says Pima County elections director Brad Nelson. “But never this high before.”

And there will be a repeat during the general election on Nov. 4 although the cost won’t be as high because Nelson will only have to print ballots for the major parties…

“We were not the only jurisdiction that had to do this, that printed the federal ballots,” says Nelson. “And absolutely (for them) no one voted at all.”

The cost ratio for those counties would be much higher than Pima County. The proof of citizenship initiative was passed by voters in 2004.

The story doesn’t say where this money is coming from, but if recent practice is a guide, it won’t be the state, and certainly not the federal government. This phenomenon – where federal and state government disagree and local government ends up with the bill – isn’t new (or unique to elections) but it’s something that has to be addressed soon. If litigation is going to continue (and it looks like it will) local governments need to know that compensation – if not clarity – will be forthcoming when fights about election laws occur.

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