By Patrick R. Potyondy
Elections security continues to dominate the news, even as the details are stilling being fought over by the states, the federal government, the media and elections watchers of all stripes.
Given this ongoing concerns—from Russian interference to cybersecurity issues big and small—NCSL has taken a long, hard look at the cost of elections. The major new report, “The Price of Democracy: Splitting the Bill for Elections,” details how much it costs to run our complex electoral system.
The report asks, who runs elections, and who pays for them? The answer to the first is fairly straightforward: the states are responsible for running elections—within guideposts set by the U.S. Constitution and Congress. The answer to the second—who pays for them—is much more complex, and that is really where the report provides clarity and insight into 10 Key takeaways, such as how:
- Funding can come from different levels of government.
- Tech (and security) needs are driving costs now.
- States maintain and secure voter registration databases.
- Policy choices on how elections are conducted can affect overall costs.
- States have choices on where to look for money to fund elections.
Each of the 10 sections introduces a major elections-cost issue, breaks it down into manageable portions, provides links to additional information, and suggests relevant state policy options.
“It turns out that no one really knows exactly how much elections cost us,” says the chief author of the report, Wendy Underhill, NCSL's elections program director. “Our goal with the ‘The Price of Democracy’ is to inform lawmakers across all the states just how many moving pieces are involved in paying for our elections, something that too many of us take for granted come Election Day.”
And for those desiring an even deeper dive, the report contains three useful appendices.
While the report states that “no has put a price on [elections] yet,” NCSL’s “The Price of Democracy: Splitting the Bill for Elections” takes us a step closer to understanding everything that’s involved in paying for this foundational institution.
Patrick Potyondy is a Mellon-ACLS public fellow and a legislative policy specialist with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.