Election reform in 2013 could be part of the reason for lower costs in the 2014 general election when compared to the 2012 general election, Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Joyce Reno said Saturday.
Totaling all expenses, minus employee wages, the 2014 general election cost Chaffee County about $32,000 compared to $39,000 during the 2012 general election. A significant portion of that is due to the election reform that required all counties to distribute mail-in ballots, Reno said.
While Chaffee County has sent mail-in ballots since the 1990s, the across the board changes meant that the county did not have to operate in-person voting centers leading up to the election as long as in the past, which brings with it the added expenses of more in-person ballots, envelopes, secrecy sleeves, provisional ballots voting instruction forms and other materials.
The reform did require the county to operate its voter service and polling centers, where voters could drop off their ballots, an additional week, which required the election judges to work slightly more at a total cost of about $2,000.
There are several other factors that could have helped drive down costs; primarily the fact that 2012 was a presidential election. Presidential elections mean higher turnout and consequently higher costs, Reno said, adding that she expects the 2016 election to cost more than the 2014 election.
“Presidential elections always cost more because your turnouts are bigger, but once you get in your cycle of 4 years you’ll be able to see how that trend is going to go,” Reno said.
Although the total cost of the election in 2012 was around $39,000, the actual cost to the county was less than that because Salida and Buena Vista school districts both had items on the ballot requiring them to pay a fee. With zero local issues on the ballot in 2014 the county will have to cover the entire $32,000, she added.
Other costs incurred during both elections that are not expected to continue too far into the future stem from lawsuits brought by voting transparency advocate Marilyn Marks.
The lawsuits require the county to preserve equipment from elections as far back as 2010. Rather than wiping that equipment clean after the statutory requirement of 25 months after an election, the county has to purchase new equipment for every election.
“A lot of expenses we have to keep incurring until we’re done with our court cases,” she said.
Marks did not return a phone call from The Mountain Mail Saturday evening.
While there are numerous factors influencing the cost of the election, Reno believe the 2013 reforms will save money in the long run.
“It is going to be a cost saver, and as we work our way through it we’re going to be able to come up with more cost savings,” she said. “Once you get through one election you can find ways to save your money.”