Despite a determination by state Auditor Suzanne M. Bump that certain early-voting costs incurred by local city and town clerks, totaling nearly $720,000, should be paid for by the state, there is little chance of that happening unless the municipalities seek relief from the courts or the Legislature. “This sounds like there will need to be a lot of work done at the state and local level to work all this out,” said Fitchburg City Clerk Anna Farrell about how municipalities, including Fitchburg’s nearly $11,500 in mandated expenses, might go about getting reimbursed for the state-mandated early voting during the 2016 election. Lowell spent more than $16,700 on early voting according to Director of Elections Eda Matchak. “We have submitted our cost to the state Auditor’s Office through the form of the municipal survey that they did following the election,” Matchak said. The determination by Bump’s Division of Local Mandates about whether the early-election expenses could be recouped was requested by the city of Woburn and the town of Oxford.
Her office found that each state municipality can now seek to recoup the expense by asking the courts to allow them to be exempt from compliance with the 2014 law that mandated early voting or seek legislative changes to the law, which may involve state funding for the expenses or modification of the law.
As part of its research, the Division of Local Mandates solicited cost estimates from the state’s 351 cities and towns.
Based on information from the 80 percent of municipalities that responded, which represent 91.33 percent of Massachusetts registered voters, Bump’s office estimates that in-total municipalities spent $719,708.25 on these required costs during this time period.
The early-voting law, which was passed in 2014, requires that municipalities allow any qualified voter during biennial state elections (and other elections taking place at that time) to vote during a 12-day early-voting period.