In 2004, the Plato R-V School District held financial elections in April, August, and November. Two years later, the bond that district officials hoped to pass showed up again on the November ballot.
“We were trying to pass a bond issue two or three years in a row,” said Superintendent Victor Slape. “Trying to pass it whenever we could, really. … More people vote in November, and we wanted to make sure people got the opportunity to vote.”
Turns out that Cynthia’s suspicion, that school districts will sometimes continue to put a financial issue up for vote until it passes, is true. And that’s a primary reason school districts occasionally add elections to the November ballot, despite the higher cost.
Superintendent of the Albany School District Ted Spessard said the costs of any school election in his district are “in the thousands.” He estimated that the district pays about two to three thousand dollars in order to put an issue on the ballot.
Spessard’s district asked several times for an $0.80 tax levy increase. It asked three times in 2006: February, April, and August. Voters said no, no, and no. The district asked again in November.
“We were trying to get a levy increase through the district,” Spessard said. “We had run one in April and it failed, and we wanted to bring it up again and we ran it in November, and it failed too. No particular reason per se than we’re just needing a tax increase.”
Though Spessard doesn’t prefer an April election to a November one, he said, “I suppose that if they went in April it would be because of costs.”
It’s cheaper for the Albany district to have elections in April, he said, “Because we don’t have anyone to divide the costs up with [in November].”
This year, it will cost school districts much more than last year to hold a November election. Why? Because 2008 is an even-numbered year.
In odd-numbered election years, the state pays each county to hold statewide elections for a candidate or issue, or a special election involving state candidates. The state pays in the same way as political subdivisions within the county, which Cynthia explained yesterday.
But in even-numbered years, the county is left holding the bag, along with whatever small political subdivision (such as a school district) put an issue on the November or August ballot. And presidential races, the big kahuna of election turnout and costs, are always in even-numbered years.
The state statute says: “The state shall not be liable for any costs of a general election or primary election held in even-numbered years […]”
And the federal government doesn’t pay. “Oh, heavens no,” said Kay Dinolfo, director of elections for the Secretary of State, when I asked, to be sure. She did add that there are some federal grants that county clerks can apply for, but that they come with a lot of regulations and requirements. “They probably won’t cover the entire cost of hiring election judges, for example,” Dinolfo said.
Is it fair to ask school and other small districts to pay for election costs? Maybe. Does it make them more likely to ask for money in April rather than November? Yes.
Are all of these costs paid by the same people? Absolutely. Missouri taxpayers are the ones ultimately footing the bill. So, the shuffling of which county or state department pays a larger portion of the cost seems silly, especially when there’s much higher turnout to gain from holding an election in November.
It’s a busy time of the year for county clerks, so requesting the exact amounts school districts pay them for election costs would take some time, and might cost a small fee. Do you think it’s worth it? I’m on the fence. Leave a comment below, or email me.