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September 10, 2010

What does early voting cost us?

The State Board of Elections released an estimate this afternoon of how much it costs to provide early voting for the primary and general elections. The tally: About $3.4 million.

The bulk of the expense -- 12 days worth of election judges at 46 early voting centers and publicity and outreach materials -- is to be picked up by Baltimore City and the counties, according to Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the elections board.

The state also is spending about half a million dollars, mostly on election software and more publicity.

As The Sun reported this morning, relatively few people took advantage of the state's first-ever early voting period. About 77,000 came out to cast balllots -- roughly 2.5 percent of eligible voters and 8 percent of the voters expected to participate in the primary.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who vetoed early voting but has a primary contest of his own this year, complained about the cost after he cast his early ballot Thursday in Anne Arundel County.

He said the additional costs associated with polling places and election judges is “an expensive process during a difficult time.”

But early voting is something that Marylanders overwhelmingly approved two years ago. Maryland is joined by 31 other states that have some form of early voting.

Here are some of the estimated costs, provided by Goldstein:

* $1.1 million for election judges (6 days for the primary, 6 days for the general), paid by counties.

* $18,400 for election judge training, paid by counties.

* $500,000 for staff overtime, election board member per diems and lawyer fees, paid by counties.

* $250,000 in voter outreach, required by law, paid by state.

* $646,000 in outreach mailings, including specimen ballots, paid by counties.

* $500,000 in software changes, about half paid by state, half by counties.

The expense estimate provided by Goldstein appears to fall in line with what legislative analysts expected early voting to cost.

Early voting returns Oct. 22 for the general election.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Early voting


$3,900,000 divided by 77,000 voters to date comes out to $50.34 per vote cast. If the full 8% of projected voters choose to vote early, that will bring the per vote cast cost down to $14.17. Still a whopping amount (and another example of an unfunded State mandate pushed down to local county government).

The real test will be to see if early voting raises the overall percentage of voters who participate in the primary and general elections. I am doubtful. Other states with early voting have shown that it merely shifts election day turnout to early voting. If that is the case in Maryland, and I think it will be, we will have spent $3.9 million for nothing.

Thanks for the look at this.

I sat at the hearing when this bill was heard. The legislative analyst characterized the costs to the counties as "minimal". In state budget parlance, this is probably his honest perception. It was not the perception of the many elections officials in the room.

In Baltimore County, there was no per diem budgeted because the $2400.00 it would cost was beyond what Baltimore County could afford.

Here's a subject I'd like to see discussed at every political debate:

The bipartisan 2001 National Commission on Election Reform found the increased use of absentee ballots and early voting inconsistent with five key objectives of fair elections:
Assure the privacy of the secret ballot and protection against coerced voting
Verify that only duly registered voters cast ballots
Safeguard ballots against loss or alteration
Assure their prompt counting
Foster the communal aspects of citizens voting together

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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