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I. In Focus This WeekCandidates aren’t only ones talking about money
Local officials work to fund upcoming election
While the economy has been one of the major topics of Election 2012, the candidates running for office aren’t the only ones concerned about money.
Ask any seasoned election official and they will tell you, having enough funds to make ends meet during elections season is never easy. However, with states and local governments still struggling in the current economy pulling off this year’s elections on budget has been exceedingly difficult.
Things like increased requests for absentee ballots, and longer ballots which require more printing and more postage are making demands on elections offices that can’t always be anticipated at budget time.
Of course, the show must go on and so the local elections administration officials find a way, whether it’s tapping into reserves, seeking out additional funding, finding ways to cut costs in areas other than Election Day, or coming up with creative ways to save money.
“There's a good chance that Black Hawk County will go over budget with this election,” explained Grant Veeder, Black Hawk County, Iowa auditor. “Part of it is that we have ordered more ballots than we originally anticipated due to voter registration increases, but the big factor is paying for more overtime and for more temporary staff than expected because of the big increase in absentee ballots.”
Veeder said that as of press time, Black Hawk County is about 40 percent ahead of the absentee requests than they were four years ago. Veeder also noted that a change to Iowa’s use of satellite voting has put added pressure on budgets. This year anyone, campaign or individual, can have a county open additional early voting sites if you get 100 signatures. The county has seven satellite voting sites, the Obama campaign campaigned for seven sites and the GOP petitioned for one.
“The cost for each of these varies by the number of precinct officials we staff them with, but they run about $200-400 a day each. Most of them are single day satellites, but one is six days and another is three days,” Veeder explained. “Both of the latter sites we established ourselves, and one was reduced from six days (which we had four years ago) to three because it's on the University of Northern Iowa campus, and that's where five of the petitioned sites are.”
Veeder noted that he would not be surprised if other counties aren’t in the same over-budgeted situation as Black Hawk.
“But I would say that it is likely that in most cases this will be adjusted through budget amendments, and most counties have reserves to cover these amendments, or experience lower-than-budgeted expenditures in other areas that can pick up the overage in elections,” Veeder said.
In Illinois, the state is about $2.5 million short in its elections budget that will most likely need to be made up by the counties.
According to Sally J. Litterly, Logan County clerk and recorder, all county clerks are on a tight budget for the November election. She is also the current president of the Illinois Association of County Clerks and Recorders.
Litterly said that county elections officials have grown accustomed to working around state funding problems.
“The money will come from good fiscal management in the budgets of the county clerks,” Litterly said. “Anywhere where we are dependent upon state reimbursement for payment of a bill or salary, we know not to fully count on it.”
The county already had an expensive primary, has elections in 2013 to prepare for and reduced its precincts from 45 to 29 in a cost-cutting measure. Litterly is also working with other county departments for help in preparing for the elections such as the highway department that is helping transport the elections equipment to the polling sites.
“We never count our chickens before they are hatched,” Litterly said. “I find county government to be fiscally responsible and closer to the people, and Clerks are penny pinchers; not only because it is our duty as elected office holders with tax-payer dollars, but because we cannot count on the state to reimburse us.”
They are watching their pennies in Tooele County, Utah as well. While the county itself is currently operating with a budget deficit County Clerk Marilyn Gillette said the clerks office is still within budget, but they are “watching every penny.”
According to Gillette the clerk’s office has taken steps over the years though to prepare for the lean times.
“A few years ago we began using county employees for the bulk of early voting days, rather than hiring election workers,” Gillette said. “The county is already paying the workers and the offices are very generous to let us use their staff. We have also implemented vote centers rather than precinct locations. This makes it so we can use buildings that are more conducive to the public for access and parking (because we need fewer of them) but we also need fewer election workers.”
Printing and postage costs are always some of the biggest costs an elections office can face and Gillette said her county saved money by outsourcing the printing to a local printer instead of doing it in-house.
“We've also applied for a nonprofit mail permit which allows us to send ballots out at the nonprofit, rather than first class price,” Gillette said. “Previously by-mail ballots cost an average of $3.00 per ballot, we are now processing and mailing them for about $1.20.”
It’s postage and printing that had Detroit’s clerk’s office seeking additional money from the city council—nearly half a million dollars.
Like other areas, the ballot in Detroit this year is larger than normal—four pages double-sided—and the added costs for printing the ballots and mailing out the absentee ballots found the elections department in need of an additional $450,000.
And it’s not just local elections officials who are going to have fork over some additional money this election cycle. Many officials are working frantically to remind mail-in and absentee voters that they need to use additional postage on their ballots due to the length and size of this year’s ballots.
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