Hundreds of special elections are held across the nation each year and because there is no way officials can plan for them, budgeting can be difficult. Below is an analysis of how two states , Louisiana and Massachusetts handle special elections.
A recent report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor‘s office calculated that special elections in the state, from 2005 to 2010, cost state and local governments more than $1 million with the direct costs of running these elections ranging between $12,000 and $137,000 a piece. As already reported, a potential conclusion from this report is that Louisiana is spending unnecessary resources to hold special elections rather than postponing these races until the next regularly scheduled election days.
Legislation to reduce the number of standalone local elections has already been introduced by the state Legislature, but underneath the headline of the cost of eac h election is the story of how states and localities divvy up the costs of running those elections.
Louisiana‘s Election Code — specifically sections 18:1400.1 through 18:1400.8 — deal with the reimbursement of counties and parishes who bear the costs of elections. The state, in essence, pays for half of all ballot and election materials so long as there is a statewide measure on the ballot. The remaining half is then prorated between the state and localities based on the number of offices that each level has on the ballot.
For example, if there is a gubernatorial special election — a statewide office — and no other ballot issues or races, the state pays for the whole cost of the ballot and election materials. If there is a municipal bond issue in a place like Baton Rouge, but nothing else on the ballot, the local election authority pays all the expenses.
If both the statewide special election and the municipal bond issue are on the ballot, the state would automatically pay for the first half of the ballot and then the state and the loc al election authority in Baton Rouge would apportion the remaining half bas ed on the number of items on the ballot. Since this example has one state and one local, the state would pay for three quarters of all expens es and the municipality one-quarter.
Calculating the pro rata share of election costs from the parish up to the state would be extremely time consuming, mind numbing and complicated were it not for Louisiana‘s advanced tracking and auditing system. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, says all election related expenses are run through the secretary of state‘s offic e. Some expenses, such as hauling the voting machines or printing the ballots, are paid for directly by the secretary‘s office. Other expenses are paid at the local level, by the parish clerk of court or the parish registrar, which they submit to the state for reimbursement.