Budget cuts across the United States have hit local elections offices, which could cause problems as voters go to the polls in 2012.
Turnout next year is expected to be up to 90-percent higher than this year's municipal elections. Governing.com says that a survey by the National Association of Elections Officials says budgets to those offices are down at least 10-percent.
Local elections administrators, under the pressure of budget cuts, are most likely to try to save money by cutting “soft expenses” like voter education and training for poll workers, says Kay Stimson, communications and special projects director at the National Association of Secretaries of State. Meanwhile, more and more entities are struggling under the expense of the high-tech machines they began purchasing after the 2000 election with the aid of federal funds. But that money is drying up; many of those machines are more than a decade old and in need of expensive maintenance that states and localities can’t afford. That means there will be fewer machines at each polling site. Voters can also expect to see fewer polling places and shorter early-voting periods than what they’re used to says Doug Chapin, who leads the election administration program at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
In some places, county elections departments are so underfunded that even in a medium-sized jurisdiction, there is only one person with the know-how to run an election. “What if that one person gets sick or has some other serious problem occur?” says Sam Reed, the Republican secretary of state in Washington. “It is that delicate of a situation, where they have cut to the point that there’s no flexibility should anything unusual occur.”