Their Fair Share?
November elections garner higher turnout. But they cost more, too. So, if a school district puts a finanical issue on the ballot in November, they’ll get more voters to the polls than they would in April — but boosting the voter count will cost them. It’s not a question of just typing a few more lines on the ballot.
How much does the cost increase?
“It varies,” said Darryl Kempf, Cooper County’s clerk. “There is no magic number.”
Political subdivisions — school, fire, and hospital districts, to name a few — help split the election tab.
“Missouri law requires that election costs be shared proportionally,” Betsy Byers, elections outreach and education coordinator for the Missouri Secretary of State, said. When determining how much each subdivision pays, the county charges based on the number of registered voters.
The specific Missouri statute, 115.065, subsection 3, states that election costs (emphasis added):
“shall be assessed by charging each political subdivision and special district the same percentage of the total cost of the election as the number of registered voters of the political subdivision or special district on the day of the election is to the total number of registered voters on the day of the election, derived by adding together the number of registered voters in each political subdivision and special district submitting a question or candidate at the election.”
It’s cheaper when there are more subdivisions to foot the bill. In April, the majority of school districts in a county in any given year will hold an election for school board members or financial issues. Because so many subdivisions share the cost of the election, the cost for any one district remains lower than if it were one of a few, or the sole district holding an election. They simply divvy up the cost of the election proportionally, by the number of registered voters in each district compared to the total number of registered voters eligible to vote on all ballot issues.
So, if there are three districts — one with 1,000 voters, one with 500, and one with 3,500 — and the total cost of the election is $10,000, then the first pays $2,000, the second $1,000 and the third $7,000.
But in an August or November election, not all school districts have races. Those who do will pay a higher charge because there are fewer districts to split the bill. And they’re paying not only the cost for that particular race, but also for taking part in a much more costly election.
For instance, in April elections, Cooper County does not use touch screen devices. But in an August or November election, the state does.
“The touch screen device adds more than $10,000 to the cost of an election,” Kempf said. “August and November elections are always higher to begin with.”
Cooper County and any school districts that hold elections in those months have to pay. The state or the federal government does not.
“The state doesn’t pay for elections, and the county pays for it,” Kempf said. “That’s not OK, but that’s what we have.”
So, while it’s tempting to say school financial issues should be put on the ballot in November to bolster turnout, the cost to the districts may be too high. It may entail a burdensome fee that discourages districts from putting issues on the ballot in high-profile election months. Although the exact cost increase is not certain, April is the way to go in order to save money. But it’s not optimal if you’re looking to increase turnout.
So, districts are facing two distinct, competing tendencies. Can we blame them for trying to save money when they’re in the process of asking for more?
While it is more costly for school districts to hold financial issue elections in August and November, some districts do so anyway. We’ll be looking into that soon. If you have questions or thoughts about school election financing, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me.