Elections cost American taxpayers approximately $2 billion per year—a figure that may grow to $5 billion in the near future. This total may seem eye-popping, but there are approximately 10,000 unique election jurisdictions in the United States, each requiring a team of election administrators to register voters; maintain voter lists; find and staff polling places; conduct public education and outreach; facilitate candidate filings; create ballots; test and secure voting equipment; and tabulate and audit results. And these administrators often operate in a hostile environment with too few staff and outdated technology.
Elections in many jurisdictions are insufficiently funded. States typically devote a small percentage of their budget toward election administration, and funding from the federal government appears at irregular intervals, often with strings attached. Most state budgets are stretched thin, and local governments struggle with a shrinking tax base or restrictions on revenue sources. While some private actors have tried to fill in gaps, philanthropic funding for elections creates its own set of problems.
This paper outlines how elections are currently funded and how that funding can be bolstered while balancing other budgetary priorities and maintaining local control of election administration. It builds off previous work that identified an ongoing need for election funding and seeks to offer consensus on how best to provide this funding. Improved funding models can not only provide reliable resources, but also bolster security, integrity, trust and satisfaction.
Image credit: Lisa F. Young