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Wednesday

April 2014

16

Recall elections put municipal budgets in the red

Six elections in one year costly to local clerks

The Aug. 14 partisan primary election and the Nov. 6 presidential election are expected to be budget busters for many municipal election officials in Lake Country.

Town, village and city clerks responsible for administering elections in their communities will have exhausted - or nearly exhausted - their 2012 election budgets by the end of June.

There are a number of reasons why, according to the clerks, including the cost of administering two to four recall elections and processing an unusually high number of applications for absentee ballots and new voter registrations.

The labor-intensive pre-election day, election day and postelection day activities became more expensive and complicated as a result of new election laws adopted by the state Legislature but later modified or overturned by the courts, according to the clerks.

The shortfalls in local election budgets are not likely to create any financial crisis. Most of the municipalities have sufficient reserves to cover the additional costs without increasingtaxes.

Since the crafting of 2012 municipal budgets began in July and August 2011 - before recall election petitions were filed with state authorities - most local clerks did not include the cost of state legislative and gubernatorial recalls in their budgets.

The addition of those recall elections to the 2012 slate means six elections this year: primary and general municipal elections in the spring, gubernatorial primary and general recall elections in the summer, and primary and general elections in August and November. In some communities, such as Oconomowoc, Ixonia, Ashippun and Lac La Belle, there were also state legislative recall elections.

In communities such as Hartland, and the towns of Delafield and Lisbon, there will be referendums on the August ballot, in addition to a primary for U.S. Senate.

Clerks in the cities of Delafield and Oconomowoc and the villages of Summit and Pewaukee all reported that by the end of May they had spent about one-half to two-thirds of their election budgets, each generally around $20,000 annually. Those expenditures did not include some of the costs associated with the June 5 gubernatorial recall.

In the more populous communities with more voters, the biggest costs are postage, supplies and personnel payroll associated with processing absentee ballot applications and ballots.

Delafield City Clerk Gina Gresch said the price of postage can range between 80 cents and $2 per absentee ballot application.

"If this presidential (election) is anything like the last one, we will have over 1,000 absentees. Last presidential we had between 1,500 and 1,600. The more absentee requests we get, the more staff we need to help process them all. That means overtime for the office staff or pulling in election inspectors to help in the office, or both," Gresch said.

Pewaukee Village Clerk Sue Atherton said it costs the village between $7.25 and $8.25 per hour in wages to bring part-time election officials in to help process absentee votes.

Furthermore, according to the clerks, a new state election law reduced time available to process absentee ballots, which means additional personnel have to be called in to help.

Previously, voters had up to 30 days before the election to cast to cast absentee ballots. The new law reduces the time to two weeks before the election.

"We used to be able to incorporate the absentees into our other work. Now, we have to bring in additional people because you have so limited time," Atherton said.

During election day, Sussex Village Clerk Sue Freiheit focused nearly all of her time on helping to verify the qualifications of nearly 550 voters who registered that day.

Some of the clerks are considering bringing in additional workers, at additional cost, in an effort to reduce waiting lines at polling places during the presidential election in fall.

However, Oconomowoc City Clerk Diane Coenen warned that the courts and state legislature may have inadvertently made it more difficult to reduce those waiting lines.

Coenen estimates that the signature requirement can delay the voting process by about five seconds per voter, provided there is no confusion or miscommunication between the voter and election workers about the voter's name, how it is spelled, the voter's address and whether the information is included in voter registration lists kept at the polling place.

The exchange of information can become complicated in an overcrowded polling place where there is lots of noise, a large number of people waiting in line and election workers trying to function in a stress-filled environment, according Coenen.

Some election officials in the Town of Lisbon politely explained to voters standing in line during the June 5 recall election that offering their driver's license to the election officials could help the voting process move faster and reduce the waiting line.

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