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How Much Do Elections Cost? More Than Usual This Year

Conducting a general election is no cheap enterprise. Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon budgeted $500,000 this year for the election that takes place Tuesday, and that was before she knew a pandemic was coming.

Lennon said she made an educated guess based on historical numbers.

She doesn’t have a complete handle on what the total cost of the election will be, but Lennon said she didn’t anticipate some expenses when the county’s budget was approved in December.

She spent $26,000 on plexiglass, for example, and another $30,000 so every voter would have a personal pen.

Boone County Auditor June Pitchford, who works with her elected county colleagues to put a budget together each year, originally budgeted a total of $850,000 for 2020 elections, which included not only Tuesday’s general election but also the March presidential preference primary, the municipal election that was postponed until June and the August primary.

Budgeting for elections requires Lennon to predict factors like voter turnout and the number of polling places she’ll have to staff. There will be 76 polling places in the county Tuesday.

The pandemic also has caused a surge in the number of mail-in and absentee ballots being cast. Lennon has worked closely with the county’s ballot printer to be efficient and save as much money as possible.

The county also has been able to take advantage of some alternate sources of funding.

“For this election, we were really fortunate to have grant money,” she said. That included $116,292 through the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and a $604,780 grant from the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civic Life.

At the beginning of the year, Lennon also had to anticipate how many other government entities, like cities, towns and school districts, will place items on the ballot. Those that do share the costs, Pitchford said.

If there are no other government entities with items on the ballot, Boone County is responsible for the entire expense.

For Tuesday’s election, Centralia and Hallsville will chip in $11,524 and $3,969, respectively. Both have use taxes on the ballot.

State and federal governments are not required to help cover the cost of elections. The Missouri General Assembly in 2018, however, passed a law saying it could cover part of the cost when state races are on the ballot, but it appropriated no money for that in the fiscal 2021 budget that took effect July 1.