Tallying the Extra Cost of Four Citywide Election Days in 2012

Posted by Doug Turetsky, June 19, 2012

Democracy may be priceless, but the cost of voting in New York City comes with an extra tab this year. That’s because next Tuesday’s Congressional primary will be the second of four citywide elections being held in 2012—the most in recent memory. It follows the Republican Presidential primary held in April. Still to come are the state legislative primaries on September 13 and the general election on November 6.

The price tag for each of these citywide elections: as much as $23 million.

We typically have three citywide elections in a year when the terms for state and federal officeholders are up for vote. But this year a federal judge ruled that New York State’s scheduling of its Congressional primaries in September, in conjunction with the state primaries for Assembly and Senate, would not leave enough time to get absentee ballots to military personnel overseas before the general election in November.

Albany officials could have shifted state legislative primaries to June 26 as well, but chose not to. With New York’s legislative session scheduled to run until June 21, the State Senate balked at the idea of holding an election just five days later that would leave them little time to get home and campaign. So counties across the state pony up more money to cover the cost of an additional day for voters to go to the polls. For the city this meant adding $23 million to the Board of Election’s budget. The funds cover expenditures such as printing ballots, transporting voting machines to the city’s more than 1,300 polling sites, and paying about 30,000 poll workers.

Although the city budget included $23.9 million for April’s Republican primary, actual expenditures totaled about $13.3 million according to information obtained by IBO’s Bernard O’Brien. The original allocation was made last year based on the assumption that both Republicans and Democrats would be holding primaries. But with only a primary for the city’s 486,000 registered Republicans taking place, the Board of Elections could cut some costs. By law every polling place had to open, but the elections board was able to combine some election districts within polling places. This allowed the board to reduce the number of voting machines needed to be delivered, ballots printed, and poll workers hired.

Despite the cost savings, the price per vote didn’t come cheap. Turnout in April was light, with 25,475 registered Republicans casting ballots, or about 5 percent of eligible voters. The cost per vote: about $522.

Turnout should be somewhat heavier in the upcoming elections, although that means there will likely not be as many opportunities for cost savings similar to those in the April 24th election. So the total cost for the four elections this year may be upwards of $80 million.

That amount doesn’t include the cost of overtime for police officers stationed at voting sites. In 2008, when the city similarly had federal and state elections, police overtime cost an average of $500,000 for each of the three election days that year.

Nor does the $80 million include the cost of the special election in Brooklyn’s 27th Senatorial District held in March. While the city budget originally included $840,000 for this election, the cost for the March election day was closer to $750,000. But the vote tallies for the two candidates were so close that it triggered a recount that is expected to bring the full cost significantly higher—for a district slated to disappear at the end of the year as new Senate lines go into effect in the wake of the 2010 Census and redistricting.