Empty Pockets: Localities Looking (Perhaps in Vain) for Help Paying for Elections


[Image courtesy of ihatethewayyoueatcereal]

Election officials in two localities are looking for some financial help for elections – and are encountering some resistance.

In Michigan, the state is telling Oakland County and other localities that it won’t pay for a special Congressional election held recently to fill the seat of former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who resigned suddenly earlier this year after allegations of petition fraud. According to the Detroit News:

“This was a really unfortunate expense, but the state constitution and election law is very clear,” [Gov. Rick] Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said. “Elections are conducted by local government, and that’s just something they have to do.

“There’s nothing in law that allows (reimbursement) because it’s a local expense. It’s something that we would have hoped to avoid.”

“This special election put a roughly $200,000 unexpected burden into already set local budgets across Oakland County,” [County Clerk Bill] Bullard said. “We do not lay blame for the special election on the governor or the state, that lies with Thad McCotter, however local governments simply cannot bear the full burden of the costs associated with this either.”

Farther to the east, Hartford, CT’s registrars are telling the City Council that there are “no funds” in the budget for this fall’s general election. According to the Courant:

[GOP Registrar Salvatore] Bramante said the issue stems from the $180,000 the city council cut from the registrar of voters office during the last budget cycle in May. Mayor Pedro Segarra’s recommended 2012-13 budget would have allocated $763,909 for the registrars’ office. The adopted budget, which includes the reduction, allocates $583,909.

“As far as my knowledge and experience [goes] in reviewing the council approved FY 2012-13 budget (without the $180,000), there are no funds available … to execute the upcoming November 6, 2012 general/presidential election,” Bramante wrote in [an] e-mail …

Olga Vazquez, the city’s Democratic registrar of voters, echoed Bramante’s concerns Thursday, saying officials from the office are planning to ask the city council to restore the $180,000 it had cut.

“We will do what we need to do, and in this case that’s going to the city council,” Vazquez said. “We’ve been through so many loops, we don’t know what to expect from them. We understand that the city is in a tough [financial] situation, but this is a matter of conducting our duties by state and federal law.

“This is one election we cannot afford to play with. It’s the presidential election, and we expect a greater turnout.”

Unlike Michigan, where the shortfall is associated with an unforeseen special election, Hartford’s problems appear to be the result of a disagreement between the registrars and the city council about how much the election office needs in a tight fiscal climate. Indeed, council members had different reactions to news that the registrars would seek additional funds:

Councilman Alexander Aponte, the panel’s majority leader, said Thursday that as long as the request is justified, the council would consider it.

“We understand elections have to take place,” he said. “We also understand that they have to operate within certain financial parameters. We do whatever needs to be done within reason.”

But Councilman Kenneth Kennedy called the potential request “troublesome.”

“Our budget is very tight. There’s not a couple hundred thousand dollars lying around that can be transferred willy nilly,” Kennedy said. “There would have to be something shown of extraordinary circumstance for us to revisit that decision.”

However these two situations turn out, one thing is clear: worrying about money is the last thing that these two election offices want to be worrying about less than two months to Election Day. I think it’s safe to say that voting will continue in both places, but how that voting will take place in a reduced-funding environment will be worth a look before, during and after November 6.

1 Comment on "Empty Pockets: Localities Looking (Perhaps in Vain) for Help Paying for Elections"

  1. The cost of elections is a growing concern amongst all people involved in election administration. Due to the misconception amongst the public at large that elections only require work on one day of the year (or six in the state of Wisconsin this year) it’s increasingly hard for officials to make a case for more money in the court of public opinion.

    One thing the state of Wisconsin is doing is trying to foster a database of the costs incurred for each election. The costs are registered from the municipal and county level and then those figures are shared amongst clerks. This is done to share best practices amongst clerks in order to keep costs down.

    The program itself is at it’s earliest stages and not without it’s problems. First, the timeframe that clerks are being asked to provide this information is causing problems as some of the figures are not available right away, especially when clerks are waiting for invoices to be received. Second, the actual cost figures are difficult to come by. For example, how does a clerk put the time his or her staff put into working on elections into an actual fiscal figure when a clerks day is split up managing other duties such as issuing licenses, filings and other issues. Third, the data is not being shared effectively right now.

    Clerks are hesitant to have anything added on to their heavy plate right now already but the sharing of data amongst clerks could become very beneficial. If a municipality in county A spends X amount of dollars while a very similar municipality in county B spends Y amount of dollars less and the information is made available to the municipality in county A could contact the municipality in county B and try to take some of their ideas to save money. However, with so much to do, who has the time to call municipality B?

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