Evaluating the Recessionary Impact on Election Administration Budgeting and Spending

Published date01 November 2020
Date01 November 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(6) 709 –713
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X20935785
The earliest estimates of how much election administration
cost in the United States (US) were conducted as part of the
Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project (2001). At the time,
the researchers used election administration budget data to
estimate the cost per voter in the United States: about $10 per
person. Recently, Mohr et al. (2018) used expenditure data
from the annual financial reports of local governments to
estimate the cost at slightly more than $8. How can we
understand these differences in the cost estimate? The first
reason may be that one estimate used budgeted spending and
the other employed actual spending amounts. The difference
between the budget and the actual is known as the budget
variance. It is quite common that there is a cushion built into
the budget to make sure that a critical service like election
administration has the necessary resources. Another impor-
tant thing to note is that the Caltech-MIT study used data
from 2000, which was an especially good economic time,
and the Mohr et al. study used recent data that included a
period just following a recession. If election administration
is influenced by economic cycles as was found in Great
Britain (James & Jervier, 2017), this may further explain the
cost estimate difference. Therefore, this research seeks to
address the fundamental research question: do economic
cycles influence election administration budget, spending,
and budget variances?
Using election financing data manually collected from
counties in Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and New Jersey,
this study examines whether election administration financ-
ing is affected by external events, such as economic reces-
sions. Second, this study analyzes whether election budgets
and actual spending data vary consistently (or randomly)
over time—in other words, is the difference between the
amounts budgeted and actually spent over time relatively
consistent? As scholars study the key question of how much
it costs to administer an election, this is a key question for
measurement validity. Election budgets are more commonly
available to researchers, which would allow scholars to uti-
lize the more common budget data as a substitute for actual
expenditures. We conclude that actual expenditures are a
more precise measure of the cost of election administration
across the US.
Literature Review
Prior to the 2000 election, the cost of running elections in the
US had never been estimated. However, following the 2000
election the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project (2001)
935785APRXXX10.1177/1532673X20935785American Politics ResearchMohr et al.
1University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA
2Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Zachary Mohr, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University
City BLVD, Charlotte, NC 28223-0001, USA.
Email: zmohr@uncc.edu
Evaluating the Recessionary Impact on
Election Administration Budgeting and
Part of Special Symposium on Election Sciences
Zachary Mohr1, JoEllen V. Pope2, Mary Jo Shepherd1,
Martha Kropf1, and Ahmad Hill1
Recent research indicates the need to understand the role financial resources play in election administration. A key question
is, when considering “financial resources,” how much does economic hardship affect the differences between the budgeted
amount and the actual amount spent?. The limited research that has examined this question comes from the United
Kingdom; it shows that there are significant differences between the two measures and they vary systematically based upon
fiscal environmental conditions. This research examines whether the fiscal environment influences election administration
budgets, spending, and the resulting budget variance in local US jurisdictions. Using county election administration spending
data from four states, this research indicates election administration budgets, spending, and variances are related to the
fiscal environment. Not only does this work have implications for measurement of election cost, but this work is key to
understanding the financial situation election administration faces given pandemic-related economic woes.
election administration, election budget, election spending, budget variance, capacity

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