No Small Stuff (cont.): Late Withdrawal Costs Rock Hill $4,500 for Uncontested Election

Rock.Hill.SC

[Image courtesy of flickr user kenlund]

I am heading out today to a meeting where we will discuss election costs: what drives them, who pays for them and how – but today’s headlines provide a reminder that sometimes election costs are driven not by big things like policy changes or technological innovation but by little things like human nature. Specifically, Rock Hill, SC just ran an election that will cost the city $4,500 even though the race is uncontested after a late candidate withdrawal. Radio station WRHI has more:

Rock Hill city councilwoman Kathy Pender earned herself another four-year term in Tuesday’s election despite that she was the lone candidate for the seat.

But Rock Hill taxpayers will foot the bill for the election.

Woody Oneal, the Rock Hill resident who paid $325 August 19 to run against Pender for the seat, withdrew from the race late last week.

“We were too far [along] in the process,” York County elections director Wanda Hemphill told WRHI’s news partner CN2, “to redact [Oneal’s] information” from the ballot.

Pender also paid the $325 filing fee.

Absentee ballots had already been printed, computer ballot templates had been finalized and poll workers had already been trained for the October 20 race, one that yielded just 2.4 percent of the 7,500 registered in Rock Hill’s second ward.

“It is a little disappointing when you have that much work into a process and then you have a withdrawal,” Hemphill added.

Pender received 179 votes in the race and was deemed the winner shortly after the polls closed Tuesday.

Initial estimates provided by York County’s office of Voter Registration and Elections predict the election will cost the City of Rock Hill about $4,500. Hemphill will invoice the city based on actual costs incurred for the election, including 24 poll workers who staffed nine precincts.

You can’t even blame this one on a quirk of local law – the city actually contemplates uncontested elections but the situation didn’t allow for a fix:

A Rock Hill ordinance allows city council to cancel uncontested municipal elections to save money, which was done for the council seats held by Kevin Sutton and Sandra Oborokumo. But with Oneal initially challenging Pender for the Ward 2 seat, the election proceeded as usual.

What must be frustrating for the city is the fact that the withdrawal came too late to avoid the costs incurred, which work out to about $25 per vote cast. While the amount of money involved may seem small, it’s a large sum for a locality like Rock Hill likely scrapping for every dollar it can to run its elections or fund its other local budgetary needs. It’s yet another reminder that when it comes to election administration, there’s no such thing as small stuff. When it comes to elections, I guess the name of the game is to manage the costs we *can* predict or control – creating even tiny amounts of budgetary slack – so the ones we can’t predict or control don’t hurt quite so much.

It’s a common refrain I know we’ll see time and again in 2016 and beyond … stay tuned.

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