Early voting for the 2016 election in Massachusetts proved to be very popular and by all accounts successful. Now, the state auditor has determined who should foot the bill.
Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump has determined that costs incurred by cities and towns to provide a place for voters to mark their ballots in private during the 11-day early voting period last year should be paid by the state.
"Early voting really was a success and we want to see it continue and in order to do that and perhaps even expand the opportunities for early voting, the legislature will have to appropriate additional funds," Bump said in an interview.
The 2016 election was the first time in Massachusetts that voters could cast ballots in-person before Election Day. Early voting was included in an election reform law enacted in 2014. Two municipalities, the City of Woburn and the Town of Oxford, petitioned Bump to determine if the new procedures imposed an unfunded mandate on local governments.
" Because this was a new requirement, and a new expense it is required to be paid for by the state," Bump said.
Based on a survey of local officials, Bump’s office estimated that in-total municipalities spent almost $720,000 to satisfy the law’s requirements for early voting. Expenses varied greatly from community-to-community. The small town of Adams reported spending $430, while the city of Springfield spent $14,000.
Municipalities reported spending an additional $1.2 million to go over and above the requirements of the early voting law by providing additional voting locations, night and weekend hours, and other costs such as advertising and security at early voting locations.
The legislature authorized $400,000 for early voting and Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office made small grants available, but Bump said none of that money was used to cover the basic expenses incurred by the municipalities.
" I think originally the legislature thought they were not imposing mandates that would require municipalities to incur costs, but we found that was not the case," said Bump.
The auditor’s determination means local governments can seek legislative changes to the early voting law that could include state funding for the mandated expenses.
" I do expect the legislature will provide some funding retroactively," said Bump.
Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola said her office was able to absorb the cost for early voting in the 2016 election, but is hoping for state funding in the future.
" Maybe going forward the state will learn from this election it is a burden the cities and towns can not bare alone," said Oyola.
More than one million people, roughly a quarter of the state’s registered voters, cast their ballots before Election Day last year.
Early voting is to be available for the 2018 election.