[Image courtesy of Pew Center on the States]
My friends on Pew's election team have a new Election Data Dispatch that looks at cost data collected by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) from over 1,900 counties and municipalities across the state. Pew notes the shortcomings of the data but also recognizes their importance to a deeper understanding of elections:
[T]hese data may not be perfect - jurisdictions may interpret reporting instructions differently and may not provide the most up to date information. Nevertheless, Wisconsin's effort to collect and share elections data is, to date, by far the most extensive in the country.
Data on the cost of election administration is elusive yet vital; fortunately the GAB understands why it can be so important:
+ To help localities budget for and predict election costs and to help identify potential cost savings.
+ To allow election officials to tell the public and the state legislature what tax dollars are being spent on.
+ In combination with other data, to help put the cost of elections in context and allow for deeper analysis.
Indeed, this initial dataset reveals a startling statistic: in the three elections for which data was collected this year, Wisconsin spent $7 million of a total of $21 million on pollworkers - or one of every three dollars spent to run elections. That's a bigger piece of the budget than staff salaries ($5.5 million, or about one in four) or ballot printing ($2.7 million, a little more than one in ten).
Looking at those figures, you begin to get a sense of why state officials (not just in Wisconsin) worry so much about pollworker training - and why there is such interest in moving away from the traditional system of neighborhood polling places.
It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin's figures compare to other jurisdictions - and how Wisconsin's data itself changes over time.
For the time being, though, a tip of the election geek cap to Wisconsin for collecting and disseminating the data - and kudos as always to the rockstars at Pew for bring this information into the light!