CORRECTION: DC Elections head says vote centers will save $1,000,000 over VBM, $200,000 over precinct place

It’s good to have friends who are forgiving of end of the day blogging.

Alysoun McLaughlin of the DC Board politely pointed out that I confused the cost figures deportees in Mike DeBonis’s story. The $200,000 is the estimated savings compared to traditional polling places. VBM is estimated to cost $1,000,000 more. That’s a lot of money for a special election!

The reason the costs are so disparate is that the DC rolls have a lot of deadwood and need to be cleaned up. The Oregon response might be: can you run a VBM contest as a way of cleaning the rolls? Nonetheless, my apologies to Rokey and the DC board for the misposting.


Rokey Suleman provided a menu of options to the DC City Council for the April 26 special election.

The costs varied from a high of $1.6 million for a full VBM, to $824,000 for a full precinct place election to $620,000 for one using two vote centers per ward.  (More after the split)

I presume that the reason the estimated cost of full vote by mail is so high–contrary to some previous estimates–is that they print and send a ballot to every single registered voter, even though turnout is probably quite low in a special city council election (previous specials had turnout of 7-15%).

Estimating costs is complicated business.  While I have not asked him, I am assuming that Suleman projected some level of turnout in a precinct place and vote center election in order to make his calculations.  

Let’s suppose that he assumed 15%.  The problem is that DC may also need to consider the “costs” of lowered turnout as a result of using traditional voting methods.

Past examples show that sending ballots to every registered voter can result in substantial increases in turnout in low profile, low interest contests.  Turnout in the 2010 Colorado Senate primary, conducted fully by mail, was double the previous most comparable election.  When Helena, MT began to conduct local elections by mail in 2007, turnout was 66%, double the 30 year average of 33% for off-year municipal contests.

I wonder what a precinct place or vote center election would cost if, for example, we estimated DC turnout at 30%?  Would it be worth $1,000,000 to increase turnout to 30%?  That may be one of the questions the DC council should ask.