How Much Will Arizona's Special Elections Cost?

Published: Friday, December 15, 2017 - 2:10pm
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Arizona will see so many elections next year, it got us asking: how much will this all cost?

KJZZ’s Bret Jaspers looked into it and he’s here to talk about it.

STEVE: Elections seem to be popping up every day. Let’s start with the special election to replace Trent Franks...

BRET: Right. Before we get to the cost of that one, I just want to mention the voter registration deadline because that’s coming up pretty soon. For the primary, the deadline is January 29 to register to vote. Early voting will start a couple of days after that.

So, on to the money part. The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office is still figuring that all out, so things are still in flux. But it estimated that the primary and general for the special election will cost no more than $3.5 million.

STEVE: It is the County that's running the special election [to replace Franks].

BRET: That’s right. The district is totally within the boundaries of Maricopa County. The County runs the special election because it’s a Congressional seat, and the state will then reimburse all of the money for that. So state taxpayers will ultimately pay for the special election.

STEVE: So no more than $3.5 million for the special Congressional election. What does the County spend in a typical election year?

BRET: Several times that, actually. $22-25 million is Maricopa County’s election budget in an regular election year. That’s what County Recorder Adrian Fontes told me. And looking at 2018 as a whole, Fontes said, hey, this is a huge voting jurisdiction.

FONTES: “Around election time you’re hard-pressed to find a rental with a lift west of the Mississippi, because Maricopa and L.A. County have rented them all. I mean this is a big, big operation. There’s big numbers that we have to deal with and we bring a lot of people in to do this.”

For a regular election, they hire a lot of temporary staff, they need technicians to set up the machines. Maybe machines need to be programmed with software. And then there’s all the mail ballots that get sent out.

STEVE: And the City of Phoenix will be having special elections too.

BRET: That’s right. That’s triggered by the impending resignation of Mayor Greg Stanton, who’s announced he’ll run for Congress. And the City of Phoenix runs its own elections — it’s the only city within Maricopa County that runs their own elections, although the County does provide the voter registration rolls.

STEVE: How much will the Phoenix special election cost?

BRET: The City Clerk has $1.1 million in costs when it holds a city-wide election. All of that is city money. They are no party primaries, but there could be a runoff election. Any runoff would then be an additional cost, slightly less than that $1.1 million.

But you know, a special election is more expensive if the City gets less time to prepare for it. There are only a few specific dates when the city can hold the election. Which precise date depends on when Mayor Stanton resigns, and then when the City Council members resign to run for mayor. Here’s Cris Meyer, the Phoenix City Clerk.

MEYER: "If it’s called near the deadline to call it, so we only have about 120 days to prepare for it, obviously there’s more overtime and stuff involved to get it done that quickly. Whereas if we know 180, 150 days, we have more time to get all of that accomplished."

Meyer told me for the City, a large majority of the cost is from printing and mailing ballots to people.

STEVE: The price tag makes you wonder, you know, since we’re having a regular primary and general election cycle anyway in 2018, maybe the more financially prudent thing to do is to have people appointed to these vacant seats, and then we can just wait for the regular cycle.

BRET: That probably would be cheaper. Of course, that would require a change to the law, but it’s also is interesting to me that the big Alabama Senate race we just witnessed was a special election. And the voters didn’t elect the person who’d been appointed to fill the seat. He didn’t even win the primary.

And what’s also true is that the Alabama election had originally been scheduled for next year before the new governor there moved it to this month. So in that case, the special election gave voters a say in who represented them, you know, more quickly than just waiting for the next regularly scheduled election. Whether it’s worth the money to put on a special election, well, that's for voters and their representatives to decide how that goes.

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