Recent re-precincting in 89 communities increased preliminary cost certifications by 11%
BOSTON – In a letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump determined and certified that the state must pay communities $2,083,736.08 to cover the cost of extra mandated polling hours for the September 2022 state primary and November 2022 general elections.
“Our democracy is strengthened when we make it easier for residents to access the ballot box,” Bump said. “Expanding access to the polls is important, but comes at a significant cost to municipalities, which is why the work my office does to ensure they are adequately reimbursed is some of the most important work we do.”
In 1983, the Legislature passed the Uniform Polling Hours Law, which mandated that cities and towns open polling locations for at least 13 hours on primary and general election days, an extension from the 10 hours initially required by law. Recognizing that this would be an unfunded mandate on these communities, the Legislature also included language in the bill directing the State Auditor to certify the additional costs communities face to provide these extended polling hours. Based on this certification, the Secretary of the Commonwealth provides funding to offset their expenses. Since 1984, the Office of the State Auditor has certified approximately $32.2 million for direct state payments to cities and towns for this mandate.
In accordance with the Uniform Polling Hours Law, which requires the cost certification to be submitted to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by September 15, the Auditor’s Office submitted a preliminary cost certification of $1,877,101.48. The re-districting and re-precincting that occurred following the release of 2020 census data in September resulted in a $206,634.60 (11%) increase in total certification from the preliminary certification, with 89 communities across the Commonwealth impacted. While the City of Boston is still undergoing its redistricting process which may further impact the final certification, it reported the highest anticipated costs at $245,835, while the Town of West Stockbridge reported the lowest, at $229.50.
Bump also renewed her call for the Legislature to address the ongoing unfunded mandate caused by the Early Voting Law.
“Early voting has been a success in the Commonwealth, but the lack of a consistent and predictable method for funding this service has created uncertainty in local government budgets,” Bump said. “The state should create a permanent process to allocate funds to cities and towns to provide early voting and vote-by-mail, and it should be modeled after the success of the Uniform Polling Hours Law.”
In 2017, responding to petitions from Oxford and Woburn, Bump determined part of the Early Voting Law was an unfunded mandate on cities and towns. Since then, the Commonwealth has not put in place a permanent process to address this cost on communities. Instead, the state has provided relief in ad hoc legislation passed after the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections to retroactively reimburse communities for their mandated expenses related to this service. Bump has developed and advocated for legislation to create an early voting cost certification process.