While the guidelines requiring cities and towns to hold elections are clear, funding to cover expenses associated with the events are less straightforward.
Voters in towns across the state will go to the polls on Tuesday to select from a slate of city council and school board hopefuls in municipal elections. Traditionally, those contests, often termed “off-year” elections, draw fewer people to the polls than countywide and statewide elections.
No matter what the economic climate, or the turnout, local governments have to figure out a way to foot the bill to give residents the opportunity to select new elected officials.
Not only do the governments have to pay for poll workers, they also have to cover the cost of poll locations and the necessary equipment. In some places like Jefferson, a local election can cost around $5,000 but in other places like Gainesville the cost is closer to $6,100. This year, that cost didn’t include the expense to have a hearing to determine the validity of school board member Kelvin Simmons’ candidacy, said Gainesville City Clerk Denise Jordan.
“The majority of the expenditures fall under advertising and personnel,” Jordan said. “There are also miscellaneous costs, which would include printing and postage.”
Hall County Elections Superintendent Charlotte Sosebee said at around $30,000 a piece, county and statewide elections are more expensive than municipal elections.
“It’s very costly,” Sosebee said. “Basically you would have to order more ballots, we would have more workers, more precincts would be open, we’d use more equipment, more overtime.”
Sosebee said certain races bring out more voters than others, but costs remain the same despite turnout.
“It is frustrating in a budget standpoint,” she said.
To save costs some local governments use existing employees as election officials.
“We appoint existing staff to fill the positions of elections superintendent and absentee ballot clerk (and they) have done an excellent job of adding this project onto their already busy day. Due to the requirement that we have two weeks of absentee and one week of early voting, if we hired someone it would cost an additional $2,000 to $2,500,” said John Ward, Jefferson City manager. “If we did not utilize existing staff there would have been multiple days during the first two weeks of absentee voting where we would have had to pay someone to be present to take care of the voters and (no voters) showed up.”
Times’ reporters Ashley Fielding, Brandee A. Thomas, and Melissa Weinman contributed to this story.