Cities and towns in the state of Massachusetts may be receiving reimbursement from the State House due to mandatory early voting periods in 2016, according to the State House News Service.
During the 2016 general election, early voting periods were held for the first time in Massachusetts under the 2014 law requiring early voting periods.
Last February, auditor Suzanne Bump found the law levied an unfunded mandate on cities and towns. She determined the total unfunded early voting costs to be just under $1.1 million. Ms. Bump arrived at this figure by sending out surveys to all 351 municipal clerks. The survey asked questions about specific costs incurred while complying with the law.
“[Ms. Bump’s office] found additional expenses, such as overtime for regular employees or the cost of additional election workers to support early voting, to be an unfunded mandate, thus requiring reimbursement from the commonwealth,” the news service reported.
Each town clerk on the Island filled out two surveys in 2017, detailing extra costs accrued through early voting.
Ben Tafoya, director of the Division of Local Mandates, helped compile the amounts each town is owed and passed the numbers on to state legislators. Mr. Tafoya’s office collects data on how much towns are expected to spend before an election, verifies the amount, then notifies the state. “Now it’s up to the legislature to take action to fund that amount,” he said.
Tara Whiting, town clerk of West Tisbury, filled out the survey even though it wasn’t applicable to the town. “I didn’t charge anything,” she said. “[There was] no hiring of extra staff. It was all done with current staff.”
Ms. Whiting didn’t see a need to hire extra staff to cover the early voting during the 2016 general election. For the 2020 general election, she will consider hiring more people to help with early voting to make it easier for people.
Ms. Whiting was also pleased with early voting. “It was very well received,” she said.
Hillary Conklin, town clerk of Vineyard Haven, filled out the state survey as well, with a reimbursement total of $844. She said early voting was a challenge to both voters and town staff.
“If I had a choice, I think it needs to be looked at a little more,” she said. “Perhaps a one-week period, not a two-week period. I would need a better facility to manage it.”
Ms. Conklin found limited parking and small voting space to be challenging factors.
Island town clerks completed the surveys and submitted them, but don’t know when to expect the reimbursement. Wanda Williams, town clerk of Edgartown, and Laura Johnston, town clerk of Oak Bluffs, expressed uncertainty as to when they would receive any reimbursement. Neither clerk could remember how much they spent on early voting. Carolyn Feltz, town clerk of Aquinnah, could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Bump also requested a change in legislative language, requiring the auditor’s office to determine mandated early voting costs for each municipality in September. The auditors would provide this information to the secretary of state, who could include the costs in in the budget request for the upcoming fiscal year.
“Early voting is an important addition to our democratic processes, and funding the expenses incurred by our municipalities will make it that much stronger,” Bump wrote in a letter, according to the news service.