Sec. of State Tom Schedler whines about how his office will need more money to conduct elections before the first half of next year is out. Instead, he needs to become proactive and start lobbying policy-makers to change Louisiana’s election code to reduce inefficiency and waste in the conduct of elections.
After having asserted that he foresaw a deficit in the operations of his department approaching a half million dollars for the rest of fiscal year 2011-12, Schedler further was disconcerted to learn that recent mid-year shortfalls meant $1.5 million was getting chopped from his budget, or less than two percent of the total. Since elections must go on, by all indications some time before Jun. 30 the sum of those totals must find its way back into the Department of State’s coffers. It must pay in total almost all expenses for elections with federal and/or state candidates and/or issues on them, half of many others, and a portion of most of the remainder. It also pays half of expenses regarding equipment storage sites, equipment, and drayage, and also pays portions of local elections full-time personnel as well as that for commissioners and their training.
But whether the money currently spent on elections should be is another matter. There are several statutory and procedural changes that could be made that would reduce the cost of elections in Louisiana without compromising the quality of their administration:
1. Reduce the number of hours the polls are open on election day. Tied for the longest hours open in the country at 14, this is becoming increasingly obsolete as early voting takes hold. By maintaining the current pay levels for commissioners and those in charge, fewer hours makes it more attractive to perform a job that historically has attracted sufficient numbers with difficulty. This entails fewer commissioners needing training and thus lower costs.
2. Reduce the number of commissioners and machines needed at the polls. Again, early voting acceptance is creating more superfluous the number of machines and commissioners needed, which are tied together in state law. Especially in need of change is the special exemption in Orleans Parish that requires an extra commissioner per precinct; it should be made the same as all other parishes, particularly as it is not even the largest in population any more.
3. Consolidate precinct voting locations. Already allowed under Louisiana law, this is another desirable change driven by the imperative of increased early voting, which again would reduce the number of commissioners needed. Where geography allows for it, this should supercede the archaic system of one set of commissioners tied to one precinct (or even to one portion of names to a precinct), reducing wait times and/or the amount of commissioners needed with more efficient processing and less idle time. Consolidation also would reduce voter confusion in knowing where to physically present oneself and in location rental costs.
4. Eliminate voter registration cards. Louisiana already requires picture identification from a state government source produced by a prospective voter except under special circumstances. As other states have done, it could require only picture identification from a state government source in order to vote and, for those without a driver’s license or special identification card, issue others for free. Besides the supplies and printing expense elimination, which probably would more than compensate for the increased costs of the Department of Public Safety of issuing marginally more cards, this probably would decrease costs of compliance and verification at the registration end. A strategy employed by some is to flood offices with as many registrations as possible to get many votes as possible subsequently cast for favored candidates, whether the registrations are legal. With this check on elections integrity in place, this would discourage those efforts to some degree, meaning fewer resources devoted to these administrative tasks.
5. Along the lines above, a law prohibiting paying contractors per registration card submitted also would reduce ineligible registrations from clogging the system.
6. Make exclusive online posting of notices. Besides allowing voters without registration cards to look up what and where their precincts are, it eliminates the expensive publishing in journals of record of election dates and candidates and/or items.
7. Have fewer elections. While efforts in the last several years have pared several municipal-only dates to just one, special elections continue to plague the calendar. Those for legislative spots or, even less efficiently, local offices, keep cropping up. Legislation dictate that any vacancies in offices, where state law or local ordinance already does not do this, either be filled temporarily by a governing authority or waited upon until the next date available on the election calendar.
With all of these implemented, possibly the state could have saved the $2 million or so this year Schedler thinks will be needed although obviously it’s too late for any of this to work now. But their implementation could lower future expenses, and the next legislative session, with 2013 featuring the fewest elections in the quadrennial cycle, would present the optimal opportunity to make these changes in law. Schedler needs to help himself and the taxpayer out by stumping for them.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:10