[Image courtesy of True North]
In case you missed it over the holidays - I know I did - on December 27 Pew's Election Data Dispatches looked at some new research on election costs in California and Colorado. Both studies found - as similar research had in North Dakota - that less-populous counties had a higher cost per registered voter. More specifically (from the Dispatch):
In California, the study examined election expenditures between 1992 and 2008 and found a 1 percent increase in county population correlated with a 0.05 percent decrease in expenditures per registered voter. For example, San Diego County had an average cost of $6.57 per voter, while Modoc County, the third-smallest county in the state, spent $18.07 per voter.
Similarly, the Colorado report found the average cost per voter in 2010 for small counties was $10.21 versus $4.95 for medium counties and $4.92 for large counties.
Why the difference? Both sets of state researchers come to the same conclusion - that small counties lack the economies of scale necessary to dilute the impact of fixed costs for activities like "finding and setting up polling places or voting centers, purchasing and maintaining voting equipment, and hiring and training election workers." Small counties may also lack sufficient numbers to benefit from bulk mail rates for delivery of election materials to voters. All of this conspires to drive up the per-voter cost in less-populous counties.
The lesson, as I observed in the blog post on the original North Dakota data, is that " jurisdictions seeking to control costs must look closely at those line items that are relatively constant over time such as equipment purchase/maintenance", which could "explain the the growing buyer's market in voting technology."
Another approach, which has been discussed in the past, is for smaller jurisdictions to manufacture economies of scale by banding together to get volume discounts on fixed-cost services. Such discussions may intensify as demands for election services increase and available funds for election administration decrease.
Either way, a more discerning eye on the part of election officials regarding not just the amounts but types of election costs the incur may help identify opportunities for savings - especially in smaller jurisdictions where the margin for savings is not as great.