[Image courtesy of claritymind]
Election policy is getting lots of attention recently, what with a presidential commission and Supreme Court arguments about the Voting Rights Act, but as 2012 rolls further into 2013 a fundamental truth is re-emerging.
Election administration is a local function, and it costs money - money that is increasingly scarce at the levels where it's needed most.
An excellent example of this is Minneapolis, where the City Clerk recently told the City Council that his office is $385,000 short on the funds required to conduct this year's mayoral election. From the Star-Tribune:
City Clerk Casey Carl told the City Council's Elections Committee on Wednesday that he's short $385,000 of the nearly $1.7 million that's needed to properly run the more expensive ranked-choice voting method the city uses for municipal elections.
Election costs will run even higher this year than last year, when the city had a massive 82 percent presidential election turnout, he said. That's despite an expected smaller turnout for the 22 races and a probable charter referendum.
The shortfall is being attributed to the city's use of ranked-choice voting, but in truth the biggest cost driver is change - specifically, new machines and new training: "ranked-choice balloting debuted in 2009 but cost the city five times more than traditional voting. This year the city also has to train workers on expected new voting equipment."
It isn't even clear if and when new machines will be available. Certification of the new machines is still pending, and the state has told the City that it's "up to [them] to test the equipment to make sure it works properly for ranked-choice voting." That testing - and any problems that arise as a result - could add time and expense to the 2013 bill.
To his credit, the clerk appears to have anticipated the increased cost, meaning that the current shortfall is not so much a failure to plan as it is a consequence of needing Council approval for increased or reallocated funding:
Carl said that he can cover the still-needed funds if he's allowed to shift $385,000 that his office saved last year by keeping four positions vacant. But the council deferred that request to a late March budget session ...
Carl [also] asked last year for an extra $250,000 to cover 2013 election costs but got just $100,000 more from the mayor and City Council. He said he's upping the request because it's now clear that workers will need more training now that there will be new equipment and because he expects that the mayoral race to succeed the retiring [Major R.T.] Rybak will draw more voters.
Stories like this aren't going to get front-page treatment but they are likely to have a far greater impact on the success of elections, both short- and long-term, than the higher-profile efforts now underway in Washington, DC.