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Pricey Tuesday? New Pew Dispatch Highlights Cost of Uncontested Elections

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[Image courtesy of raquelokyay]

With the year-end holiday season underway, we are in the midst of a series of days marketed to consumers as unofficial shopping days: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Buyers on these days are looking to save money and make cost-effective purchases for everyone on their gift list.

These shoppers likely wouldn't flock to the deals offered in a new Pew Election Data Dispatch examining the high cost of uncontested elections. The Dispatch looks at (and links to) several stories of where localities were forced to spend funds on elections where the winner was already clear:

  • $ A recent election in Huntsville, TX, for three uncontested school district trusteeships was required under state law at a projected cost of $13,000.
  • $ State law required the town of Bernalillo, NM, to hold an uncontested March 2012 election for two Town Council members and one judge. It cost the town, which has a population of roughly 8,000, approximately $10,000.
  • $ An uncontested March 2013 election--required by local law--for a seat on the Board of Aldermen in Carrboro, NC, cost the town $11,000. Only 263 of Carrboro's 15,647 registered voters cast ballots, a cost per vote of nearly $42.
  • $ In August 2013, state law required Chelan County, WA, to hold a primary in which the only countywide race was uncontested. The cost was around $100,000. Washington conducts all elections by mail, and a ballot was mailed to each of the 40,151 registered voters in Chelan County. Three of its 85 precincts voted on propositions in the election, and the other 82 had only the uncontested race on the ballot. Of the county's registered voters, 16 percent, or 6,532 people, cast a vote in that race.

Pew's efforts to collect and share such data are an important part of illuminating the cost of elections - and spotlight election policies like uncontested elections that might be all (or mostly) cost and no benefit.

Not even all the door-busting cyber-deals in the world are likely enough to offset those costs!

1 Comment


  • I'd argue that no scheduled election is of "no benefit." If a certain outcome was our standard for gauging whether to hold an election, then we could cancel more than 75% of U.S. House races right now and often even more local and state races.

    But election are about engagement and re-affirmation of the electorate of their representative, and most candidates in uncontested races still do something to reach out to voters, and some voters make the time to vote. If you don't, you actually can lose -- a city councilor here in Takoma Park (MD) lost an uncontested race a few years ago to an unannounced write-in.

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