What Elections Cost Us

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Today is primary day in New Jersey. We’ll be casting our first round of ballots for a president, a senator, a county sheriff and more. In July, we’ll be voting in a special election to determine a successor to a congressman who died in April. In November, we’ll be voting again in a general election. There will be in-person early voting, too, which means that we have to have poll workers at the Verona Community Center. All this voting is going to cost us a lot of money and we don’t have many ways to reduce that.

Last year, when we had fewer elections, Verona spent $75,152.47 on voting. Of that, $17,250 was to pay poll workers. But there are lots of other costs that might not be apparent to voters. We had to spend $14,952 to print ballots and another $14,349 for Board of Election staff and seasonal help, some of which is needed if our local poll workers don’t show up on Election Day. There was $4,277 to the Essex County Clerk’s office and another $2,287 to the Essex County Sheriff. With more elections this year, these costs will rise.

Last month, Municipal Clerk Jennifer Kiernan walked the Town Council through the rules on elections in New Jersey, which often stand in the way of cost cutting. While many people now vote by mail, New Jersey towns must have one polling district for every 900 registered voters and the voting location for each one has to be staffed by six people, who have to reflect the major political parties and unaffiliated voters. We can’t reduce the number of poll workers if two or three districts vote in the same location, which is the case for the districts assigned to H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and Verona High School. Even if we could make the districts larger, there are rules around how many voting machines we would need, so that voters don’t have to wait too long to cast their ballot, and we’d have to pay for the extra machines. “The convenience of the voter is important,” Kiernan said. “If you look at the election law, it’s repeated over and over.”

The Town Council has been considering moving the May odd-year municipal elections to November in even years to cut costs. Kiernan’s analysis broke down the fixed and variable costs of such a move and she cautioned that, in some cases, we might not save as much money as we would think. Verona, South Orange and Cedar Grove are the only three towns in Essex County that have May elections, and some of the County costs incurred for them are split three ways between the towns. If any of the three were to move to November, the remaining towns would have to bear those costs.

You can read Kiernan’s presentation here, or watch it in the video below.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I have had the opportunity to be a candidate in three municipal May elections for Verona town council. I grew up in New
    York and moved to Verona in 1985 so the concept of a May election was new to me. When I spoke to local leaders at the time and to reporters covering the town I was advised that having municipal elections in May focused more attention on them and the candidates or questions that may be on the ballot. It made sense to me at the time . We don’t run for council as members of a political party and the mayor is not elected by the voters. This wouldn’t have to change if the election was moved to November. As the article points out, this has been discussed because of the expense of running the local election in May. Proponents of keeping the local election in May claim voters are more focused on the local election. Unfortunately, the voter turnout numbers don’t support this. They usually don’t exceed 20% of registered voters. I don’t think this would change much by moving to November.

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