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Election Academy

In St. Charles, A Penny Saved is a Voting Machine Purchased

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[Image courtesy of mandycurry]

One common refrain you hear in the field is the lack of local funding available for election administration. This lack of funding manifests itself in numerous different ways but is widely accepted as a partial cause for many of the problems that election officials face in planning for and conducting elections.

Every now and then, however, you come across a story that reminds you that even in tight budgetary times, the resourcefulness of local election officials knows few bounds. Yesterday's CBS St. Louis featured St. Charles County, MO's purchase of new voting machines - normally a sleepy little story but one that is worth a look because of the source of the funds:

St. Charles County is just about to close a deal to purchase hundreds of new, state-of-the-art voting machines. But don't worry taxpayers -- the cost won't be passed on to you.

Like a squirrel storing nuts for the approaching winter, St. Charles county elections director Rich Chrismer has been salting away money raised by leasing out his machines to other election authorities throughout the county.

He says that means he's now been able to save up the million dollars or so needed to purchase 260 voting machines, split evenly between optical scan and ADA-compliant versions.

"Other counties in the state of Missouri are asking for bond issues and taxes to pay for these new voting machines," said Chrismer. "I didn't do it that way. I did it the way the government suggested by collecting money over the years."

The purchase ... still needs final approval from the full council -- if that happens at next month's meeting, the new machines would be ready to go for the first election of 2014.

This story is not notable just because of the county's ability to purchase the machines without outside funding; it also speaks to the discipline of the county's election office in saving those funds instead of using them for other operational purposes. Even better, the source of the funds - other localities within the county - will likely continue to benefit from the voting machine upgrade. Presumably, they'll continue to lease the county's equipment, re-filling the coffers and making other purchases possible.

Of course, this solution won't work for every election office across the country; not every jurisdiction has other potential "paying clients" for its services. But even the idea that an election office would look past traditional sources of revenue in tight fiscal times is worthy of note - and worthy of emulation, where possible, in other communities across the nation.

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