A look at what it costs to run elections in the United States, and where that funding comes from.

The Cost of Conducting Elections

Election officials are used to “making do” with what they have. They often express pride in pulling off the complicated logistical maneuvers necessary to conduct elections on a shoestring budget. One consequence of the frugality imposed on election administration is that services provided to voters vary considerably across the nation.

While financial support for election administration has traditionally been considered a province of state and local governments alone, the 2000 election alerted the public that shortcomings in and underfunding of election administration could have national — if not international — ramifications. Since then, the federal government has been called on to help state and local election officials shoulder some of the financial burdens of conducting elections, but until now, the federal government has served as a reactive insurer of last resort.

Marshaling the resources needed to conduct the 2020 election brought this question to the fore: Is it time for the federal government to change this approach to supporting elections by partnering with state and local governments to ensure that elections are accessible and secure for all?

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Claire DeSoi