Voter Notification Plan Tripped Up By Lack Of Funds
An initiative by the city council in Springfield, Massachusetts intended to improve turnout for this year’s municipal election has hit a snag. There is no money to pay for it.
The Municipal Election Notification ordinance requires postcards to be mailed to each household in the city of Springfield with information about the date of the election, the polling location for the household, and the offices that will be on the ballot.
But Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola-Lopez said the ordinance cannot be implemented for this year’s election because it is not fully funded.
"So there is not going to be a postcard mailing as detailed in the ordinance to all the voters in the city of Springfield," Oyola-Lopez said in an interview.
The City Council passed the ordinance in June and Mayor Domenic Sarno vetoed it. The council overrode the veto in a 10-0 vote on July 15th. The city entered a new fiscal year on July 1st with a $692 million budget approved by the council that includes line-by-line spending authorizations for each municipal agency, including the Elections Office.
Printing the postcards and postage was estimated to cost $13,000 each for the September 10th preliminary election and the Nov. 5th final vote. Oyola-Lopez said she is only authorized to spend $5,000 on advertising and voter outreach.
"It is a small amount that we try to do the most we can with," said Oyola-Lopez.
The ordinance also instructs the Elections Office on the day of the election to post signs at the closest intersections to a polling location that read “Vote Today.” Oyola-Lopez said it is possible there might be enough money to do that.
Oyola-Lopez said she will prepare a report for the city’s chief finance officer on how much money would be required to fully implement the ordinance in future elections.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the sponsor of the voter notification ordinance, called on Mayor Sarno to propose supplemental funding for the Elections Office.
"Certainly, we have made mid-year ( budget) transfers for various different initatives during my time on the council and before," said Lederman. "I hope the mayor will consider it."
But Sarno does not plan on recommending any additional funds, according to Oyola-Lopez.
The mayor and the full 13-member City Council are up for election this year. Two years ago, with just council elections, less than 10 percent of the city’s registered voters went to the polls. For the last mayoral election, in 2015, voter turnout was 16 percent.