On September 13, New York State held its primary elections for contested State and local offices. This is the third primary of this year, 2012, in New York State. The Presidential primary was in April, the Congressional (i.e. federal) primary was in June. The General election is still ahead in November. For some registered voters in the State, they will go to the polls four times this year (excluding school board/budget elections and some Village elections).
This may seem like a very democratic situation with lots of opportunities for people to voice their opinions. The primaries, however, are very costly to
the taxpayers. The June primary and the September primary could have been
combined into one primary if only the State Legislature had seen fit to do so
but they couldn’t agree. Primaries traditionally have a very low turnout. According to a Journal News article published earlier this year, in the April primary of this year in Westchester County, the turnout was only 8% of eligible voters – in this case, only Republicans. The cost of just one primary in Westchester County is $2,155,271 (Sept. 2011). (It is estimated that each statewide primary costs in the range of $50 million.)
Why do primaries and elections cost so much? It comes down to equipment and staffing. The County has 1,031 election districts. While some districts are combined with others as far as the actual polling location, each district nonetheless has to have 4 to 6 election inspectors, divided between Republican and Democrat. Altogether there are between 4,000 and 5,500 election inspectors working on any given polling day, each earning $225 for the day. Inspectors are also paid a token amount of $25 to attend training. The total personnel cost for an election day is about $860,000.
Equipment costs are very high and somewhat surprising. The new optical scanners cost $8,500 each and the County has 1,500 of them. That is more or less a one-time cost although there is a recurring cost of transporting them to and from the polls and setting them up properly – last September it was $254,346. The Board of Elections also had to rent many polling places for $67,121.18. But what is surprising to me, is the high cost of the paper ballots. Using the scanning machines requires voters to physically mark a paper ballot which is then scanned by the machine. The format of these paper ballots is prescribed by law including sequential numbering and they are expensive to produce – some $.55 each. Many more ballots have to be printed than are actually used because it is never certain how many people will actually vote and there are also people who make mistakes and get the ballot invalidated and then require a new ballot form. In September of 2011, the County printed 858,000 paper ballots at a cost of $471,900.
Clearly this all adds up. There may be ways to reduce these costs through combining dates, or combining voting places. Although the total cost would not change, the cost per vote would go down if more people who are eligible to vote
actually did vote. Not voting means passing up an opportunity for which you are already paying and forgoing your chance to choose those who will represent you.