Saturday, November 6, 2004

County's election cost: $6M


Intense voter interest sparked a 40% increase from 2000

By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer

The cost of democracy broke all records in Hamilton County this year.

The county Board of Elections will run through almost $6.2 million this year, largely because of interest in and litigation over Tuesday's election, according to board Director John Williams. That's a 40 percent increase over spending in 2000, the last presidential election year.

"This will be the most expensive year for elections in Hamilton County history," he said Friday.

It's worth the cost to the county, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said.

"The primary function of democracy is the exercise of the right to vote," Portune said. "We had phenomenal activity this year. You can't look at that and say that's a negative."

Other area boards of elections - which cover much smaller populations - have not reported such dramatic spikes in costs despite avid interest in the race between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

In Hamilton County, a staff of 40 full-timers and dozens of temporary workers processed 163,000 voter-registration forms, Williams said, gleaning a record 84,000 new voters.

(The rest were duplicates, address changes or otherwise didn't qualify as new registrations.)

The elections staff also had to mail and process 42,000-plus absentee ballots - another record - and resend 17,500 ballots because of an error. That's a lot of time, paper, ink and postage.

The workload has forced full-time employees to put in six- or seven-day weeks for more than three months, Williams said. The 34 hourly employees have amassed $459,000 in overtime since January - an average of $13,500 a person.

Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke praised employees Friday: "They've just been incredible in terms of the time that the staff has put in over there. That stuff all had to be processed in a very limited amount of time."

Another cost: The board sent out a large card reminding all 573,000 registered voters of their correct polling place after the state was sued in an unsuccessful attempt to let voters use any polling place in their county. Printing the card and mailing it first class cost $222,000, Williams said - well above the $187,000 the board spent on mailings in all of 2000.

Election Day, the Board of Elections added equipment to quadruple its telephone capacity and set up a phone bank of 30 workers with computers to answer questions.

The Board of Elections has enough money to cover the extra costs of an extraordinary election, Williams said, only because it got extra money for a switch to electronic voting that was delayed.

"I don't know that anybody would have predicted this thing. It's really been something."

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com




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