Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Election Reform: Who's Paying?

Localities in Massachusetts are coping with an issue facing election officials nationwide: how to finance state mandated election reform. Massachusetts, like other states, has recently set new requirements for extended hours at polling locations, early-voting, and pre-registration.

The problem? These new rules don't come with funding. Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump chastised lawmakers saying that the new regulations "increased the financial burden on cities and towns...and this is the responsibility of the state." Massachusetts already has a law on the books requiring that the state pick up the cost of extended voting hours, but obtaining reimbursement is an annual struggle.

RNLA has previously addressed the high cost of early voting and other reforms. This issue is by no means unique to Massachusetts. Nationwide states are enacting costly new election requirements which offer little return on the investment. In Massachusetts alone the cost of extending polling location hours is expected to run more than $2.76 million in addition to the $3-6 million cost of early voting as estimated by the Massachusetts State Senate Ways and Means Committee. If these new requirements were effective in increasing voter turnout, perhaps the cost would be justified. However, as the Pew Research Center points out, expensive early voting programs are actually associated with lower turnout. From the Pew study: "[t]his result upends the conventional view that anything that makes voting easier will raise turnout."

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association summed it up nicely when he said: "[e]arly voting will mean additional costs for cities and towns that are already cash-strapped. So, the funding needs to follow."

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