A Dollar Short: New Mexico Auditor Says Elections Persistently Under-Budgeted

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[Image via ihatethewayyoueatcereal]

New Mexico’s State Auditor has written a letter to the Secretary of State saying that the state’s elections have been persistently underbudgeted for almost a decade – and that the shortfall is being covered by a variety of methods that could be costing the state money. The Albuquerque Journal has more:

State Auditor Tim Keller, in a report released today, says the Secretary of State’s office has been chronically under-budgeting for elections over the past decade.

Keller says that has led to the need for $25 million in emergency loans, grants and special appropriations from the state to pay for elections.

“Repeatedly using emergency funding mechanisms for routine, regularly scheduled elections runs against commonsense budgeting principles,” Keller said in a statement.

Current interim SoS Brad Winter – who was appointed to the office after the incumbent Dianna Duran resigned following her indictment on misuse of campaign funds for personal use – acknowledged the shortfalls but said the fault lies with legislators’ failure to appropriate sufficient funds, not budgeting problems in his office:

Winter, however, told the Journal the problem is not that the office has underestimated how much elections will cost, but that it has been under-funded.

For the upcoming budget year — which includes a presidential general election — he said the office requested $6.1 million to run elections and ended up getting just under $5 million in the budget approved by the Legislature.

Officials in the Secretary of State’s office said election costs vary, and it has been the state’s practice to provide enough funding for the least expensive elections and then make up the difference afterward, as needed.

One key area of concern in the Auditor’s letter is the Public Election Fund, which is supposed to cover the costs of public financing. Keller notes that due to its use as a source of funding for election administration, the Fund has decreased in value more than 80% in five years. To address the issue, Keller offers to assist in coordination between his office, the SoS and county clerks statewide:

Keller said … that this is “a critical juncture” for the Secretary of State’s office to break the old pattern, because New Mexico’s budget problems will be worsened if it continues.

He encouraged Winter to implement “best practices” to accurately budget election costs.

It’s worth noting that this letter comes with an important need for context. Keller, who was elected Auditor as a Democrat in 2014, is being critical of the budgeting practices of an office that has been under Republican control since 2011 – and is once again on the ballot this fall following Duran’s resignation. That doesn’t diminish the import of the shortfalls, but it certainly gives Democrats something to talk about as they support their candidate for SoS in 2016. [It’s also likely why SoS Winter is pointing a finger at the Legislature, which been under either Democratic or divided partisan control for several years.]

Still, regardless of who’s to blame, the letter is a useful window into one state’s practice in budgeting and funding election administration – and it’s not a very pretty picture.

I have no doubt that New Mexico’s combination of divided partisan control, an open SoS seat and and presidential election year means that we have yet to hear the last of this story.

Stay tuned …

1 Comment on "A Dollar Short: New Mexico Auditor Says Elections Persistently Under-Budgeted"

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