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Will the Cost of Elections Become a Reason Not to Have Them?

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[Image courtesy of Eye on the Hill]

On Friday afternoon, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) released cost estimates that showed the hotly-contested recall of the state's governor could cost the state more than $9 million in 2012.

GAB obtained the figures through a survey of the state's counties and municipalities and estimated that the recall costs would break down as follows:

  • + County estimated costs: $2,348,423.98
  • + Municipal estimated costs: $5,821,898.20
  • + GAB estimated costs: $841,349.00
  • + Total estimate: $9,011,762.18

These figures are remarkably detailed and I look forward to learning (and sharing) more about the process involved in generating the estimates.

In the meantime, it is fascinating to see how election offices' willingness and ability to generate cost estimates has made it possible for policymakers to debate not just whether such costs are reasonable but rather they should be incurred at all.

In Wisconsin, GOP State Rep. Robin Vos - who opposes the recall and who had requested the estimate from GAB two months ago - cited the estimate as evidence that the recall was too costly to proceed:

"The citizens of Wisconsin should have known the estimated cost on local governments before a single petition was circulated. Is this how they want their valuable taxpayer dollars spent?," Vos said in a news release. "The real results of the statewide recall election will be a financial drain on our local governments and an emotional drain on our electorate. The recalls are not healthy for our state."

In response, Wisconsin's Democratic Party chair said that the recall was justified because the incumbent governor's policies had cost the state many times more than the estimated costs of the recall.

Whether or not either of these political arguments are valid, they are a logical extension of the field's growing ability to assess what it will cost citizens as taxpayers to exercise their rights as voters.

None of this is to suggest that the field should not continue to hone its ability to conduct such assessments, but election administrators - and the policymakers who love(?) them - must admit that the ability to put a price on one or more elections ultimately raises the question of whether that price is one which taxpayers are willing to pay.

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