Tuesday, January 24, 2012

$100,000 or Free

Before I was at the election office, I didn't understand the financial costs of elections.

I never thought about it.  Elections just happened, and I suspect most citizens don't think about election costs.

Here in Johnson County, a full-county election is paid by the county but anything less than that is paid by the jurisdiction.

One of our cities, Shawnee, moved to a different cycle in the late 1990s, moving from odd years, when the spring elections were countywide, to even years.  This meant that the city would incur the incremental cost of any election (election workers, supplies, ballots, publications, staff overtime, etc., but not voting machines or any fixed cost, such as office salaries).

I was on the city council in Shawnee from 2002 until being appointed Election Commissioner in 2005.  I've advocated to the city, since coming here, that the city's current election schedule is a waste of money, and the council responded, developing a plan to move back to the odd-year cycle after this year.

However, we just got word that the city will have a primary for mayor this year, which means a full-city election.  With more than 40,000 registered voters, at an estimated cost of between $2 and $3 per voter, the election will cost the city about $100,000.

Further, the Kansas legislature changed the laws for what would trigger a primary to reduce costs of primaries.  The legislature's law would create a primary in this case if four persons filed for mayor instead of three.  Shawnee created a charter ordinance to maintain the primary trigger at 3 candidates.

So, $100,000 to eliminate one candidate out of three for an election to be held five weeks later between two candidates that will cost a similar amount.

Elections are expensive, and this blog will get into the cost drivers over the year.  The more awareness there is to the cost of elections, I believe, the more likely governing bodies will look to more cost-efficient situations--namely, placing items on the ballot when there are countywide elections already scheduled.

There are four other cities in Johnson County that hold city elections in the off-year.  Hopefully, they will see the unnecessary cost of off-year elections.  Some of those cities also have primaries, but none has a full-city primary.  Maybe the Shawnee cost example will prompt those cities to consider moving to the other cycle proactively.

It brings up the notion of moving the spring elections to November, a concept currently being discussed by the legislature.  There are some administration impacts with that idea--workable, though, and a post topic in the months ahead.