December 17, 2008

The Conflict Between Dollars and Democracy

The costs for administering elections have increased since the enactment of the Help America Vote Act. And some say costs have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled.

In testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration, Mr. Ray Feikert, former county commissioner of Holmes County, Ohio, testified that in his rural jurisdiction, it costs approximately $4,000 to run a special election for school board before enactment of the Help America Vote Act. The price tag increased to more than $20,000 by 2007.

In California, the experience has been somewhat similar especially because of new requirements placed on local jurisdictions by the Secretary of State. Mainly those requirements surround additional security (seals, locking tags, etc) measures and the associated costs for personnel and supplies as well as the costs for certain mandated recount situations.
All of that coupled with the state's current financial situation makes the conduct of elections more costly at the same time that local governments are struggling to balance budgets.

The conflict between dollars and democracy was the main point debated at yesterday's San Mateo County Board of Supervisors' meeting at which the members eventually voted to appoint a new board member rather than pay the costs of an election.

Three board members cited the dismal economic climate and said they would rather use the estimated $1.7 million cost to conduct a special election to provide services to people. However, Supervisor Rich Gordon said, "I am absolutely convinced now is the time to clearly engage the citizens of this county in the discussion of the important challenges this county faces."

It was a difficult decision for the board - the final vote was 3 to 1.

The "bottom line" of this debate is that due to the added costs of the Help America Vote Act, a plethora of election mandates of Sacramento coupled with the state of the economy, the people of San Mateo County experienced a conflict that might soon come to other jurisdictions as they grapple with the same issue - the conflict between dollars and democracy.

In our case, dollars won the day.

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