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Election Costs: A New Weapon?

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[Photo courtesy of Tracy Olson via Creative Commons]

A recent story from Port Orchard, WA demonstrates how important election costs are in the current tight fiscal environment.

There, the City Council had voted in late May to take advantage of a state law that allows cities to modify their status to become "code" cities and thus give themselves more flexibility in their affairs.

Shortly thereafter, one member of the city's Planning Commission who had argued that citizens be given an opportunity to weigh in on the change filed papers to put the question to a vote. But because of a misunderstanding about deadlines, the question was not certified in time for this November's general ballot and thus would have required a special February election next year.

Upon learning that the special election would cost Port Orchard as much as $30,000, the City Council voted to rescind the change to code city status.

Port Orchard's decision to skip an election for financial reasons is familiar. In 2010, two new Lt. Governors - Jay Dardenne of Louisiana and California's Gavin Newsom - postponed their swearing-ins in order to prevent special elections to choose their replacements as Secretary of State and mayor of San Francisco, respectively. Earlier this year, Washington State cancelled its presidential preference primary, which would have cost the state $10 million.

But this case - where the cost of holding an election has affected a policy decision - appears to be a new development and one with potentially far-reaching consequences.

It will be interesting to see if this kind of argument appears in other communities and if decisions are altered as a result. If nothing else, fiscal concerns like those that faced Port Orchard will force anyone who wants to "put it to a vote" to figure out how and when that vote will occur - and be prepared to justify the costs required to do so.

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