The Times Election page: A look at the candidates and races plus helpful links
According to the old economics adage, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
This same is true of elections. Indeed, no matter how fair, they are anything but free.
There are many moving parts when it comes to calculating the cost of an election, and wild swings in expenses can occur from year to year depending on whose name is on the ballot and what offices are up for grabs. Calculating the cost to taxpayers of counting ballots can be a little tricky.
“It’s really hard to put a dollar sign on how much an election costs,” said Charlotte Sosebee, Hall County director of elections.
Nevertheless, Sosebee estimates that the May 20 primary election will cost Hall County about $65,000 to conduct. That’s about 69 cents for each of the more than 94,500 registered voters. The county has a population of about 188,000.
Paying poll workers and other personnel accounts for “one of the largest expenses,” Sosebee said.
For example, each polling station is required by law to have a manager and two assistant managers. Managers make $10 and the assistants $9 an hour in Hall County. Meanwhile, most polling places also have a clerk on hand who makes $8 an hour.
There are 35 polling sites in the county, employing more than 265 workers this election season.
By comparison, Fulton County officials said the cost of holding an election for federal races alone this year would exceed $2.4 million. There are 630,000 registered voters in Fulton and 222 polling places.
Forsyth County officials estimate the cost of the primary election to be between $100,000 and $125,000. And that figure will balloon to more than $300,000 for all elections this year. There are 117,000 registered voters in the county, which has a total population of about 195,000, with 16 precincts and five early voting locations.
Gwinnett County officials estimate the cost of the primary election to be between $600,000 and $800,000. There are about 460,000 registered voters in the county, which has a population of about 859,000, and 156 polling sites.
Gwinnett Elections Supervisor Lynne Ledford said that early voting has driven up costs slightly, but that it has also shifted costs by spreading out expenses over a longer timeframe.
Hall County also has seen costs increase as early voting has become more popular, though these costs have come down a bit in recent years.
“It has driven up the cost, but not drastically,” Sosebee said.
In 2008, there were 45 days of early voting in the county. Sosebee said the elections budget was exceeded that year as turnout increased.
But there are just 21 early voting days this primary election, beginning Monday.
There are other costs typically associated with running an election, such as the purchase and maintenance of voting machines.
Sosebee said Hall County had budgeted about $41,000 this fiscal year to pay for new equipment and renew a maintenance agreement.
Touch-screen units cost about $1,400 each, and Sosebee said more than 300 voting machines would be used in the primary election. However, no new machines have been purchased this year.
“We’re always looking for ways we can cut costs,” Sosebee said, adding that she is looking at consolidating voting locations in upcoming elections to save on equipment and personnel expenses.
Some costs, however, cannot be cut no matter how large or small turnout is. Poll locations, for example, must be adequately staffed “regardless of what kind of turnout you’re going to have,” Sosebee said.