A glance at any campaign finance report reveals the role money plays in state elections, as candidates, private donors and independent interest groups use cash to try to sway voters. But behind the scenes, Massachusetts cities and towns also funnel thousands of dollars into elections – as the price tags to prepare voting machines, staff polling locations and advertise big changes to election routines add up. The cost varies largely depending on the size of the community and how many precincts it has. Scituate Town Clerk Kathy Curran said a typical state election costs about $9,000. The town hires about 34 workers for its six precincts.There is one polling location for all 14,000 residents who are registered to vote. In Quincy, the same state election costs up to $80,000, City Clerk Joseph Shea said. The city operates more than two dozen polling locations for its 30 precincts, requiring about 200 election workers. The city has nearly 64,000 registered voters. “In a city election, we’re on our own, but in a state election, the state does step up to reimburse some of it,” Shea said. “The amount we get back changes from year to year.”
The state helps communities with statewide election costs in three areas, said Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin’s office. First, state government pays to print the ballots for the election, including samples available at the polls. McNiff said the printing cost for all 351 communities is about $800,000. The state also pays for programming of special polling machines that are set up for disabled voters, McNiff said.
Lastly, because of a 1983 law that expanded polling times by three hours in state and national elections, Massachusetts reimburses cities and towns for keeping the polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. “The state picks up the cost of the additional hours based on the difference of what a town might typically do and the 13 hours mandated,” McNiff said. “That amount is determined by the state auditor’s office.”