Elections – Funding Equity and the Role of the County – Conduit Street
As the legislative session of 2022 approaches, MACo is profiling some important issues that should gain attention in the work of the General Assembly. Here, we anticipate potential reforms in election administration, procedures and financing.
Counties administer and finance elections at the local level, overseeing polling stations and coordinating election officials every two years – a core function that has proven difficult amid the pandemic.
The current law does not recognize modern trends in voter preference, the capabilities of new technologies and the realities of election administration in our local communities. Even after health concerns have abated, Maryland’s odd and outdated mix of election governance laws and practices deserves a much needed reboot.
What’s the problem?
Since 2001, the state has relied on the uncodified language of a bill to govern the funding responsibility between state and counties for voting machines and related systems. However, the statutory language is vague and the State Electoral Council often makes arbitrary decisions that transfer administrative and financial burdens to local electoral councils, whose operations depend on county funding.
Without adequate resources to offset the substantial costs of purchasing / renting equipment, storing and transporting equipment, staff compensation and training, and other overhead costs, these government-mandated expenditures represent mandates. important unfunded to county governments.
Under state law, counties have no choice but to fund these costs – competing for limited local funds against public health, education, public safety, road maintenance and other essential public services.
What happened during the last session?
MACo supported legislation to update electoral laws with an emphasis on fairness, transparency and accountability.
A MACo legislative initiative in 2021 would have required the State Electoral Council (SBE) to take the necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the transparency and accountability of transactions that strain county funds, and to provide ample opportunities for contributions from local governments and voters in Maryland. The bill also sought to clarify and codify the 20-year precedent that governs the financing of national and local elections, in order to ensure the stability and predictability of national and local budgets.
State Electoral Council – Membership, contract management, ballot boxes and voting system Funding did not move forward in the 2021 legislative session.
Major progress during the interim
The State Board of Elections (SBE) plans to replace its electronic registers – which verify and register voters at polling stations across the state – in time for the 2022 election cycle. While the state is responsible for 50 % of the costs for ‘acquiring and operating the statewide voting system’, SBE does not consider the registers to be part of the statewide voting system and therefore has planned to charge county governments 100% of acquisition costs. equipment and software needed – nearly $ 30 million over the next three years.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo sent a letter to the Public Works Council asking the state to honor its long-standing division of responsibility for election financing.
At a meeting of the Public Works Council in September, Budget and Management Secretary David Brinkley promised that a plan to replace electronic registers and state-mandated ancillary equipment would follow the same pattern. 50/50 state / county funding than other comparable equipment since 2001..
The claim came at the behest of Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and former state treasurer Nancy Kopp, both of whom raised concerns about a plan by the state electoral board to charge County governments 100% of the cost of purchasing the necessary equipment and software.
Extract from the MACo letter:
In the years since its adoption, half the funding was honored for a wide range of equipment purchases, with state budgets comprising equal amounts of general state funds and special funds ( reimbursable by billing to the county). MACo believes that the demand for equipment before the State clearly deserves the same consideration.
MACo, as an organization, is ready to work with the Public Works Council, State Election Council and Administration to deliver a mutually beneficial solution that achieves the level of service required and is within budgets and county process. The Counties of Maryland urges your support in the pursuit of the long-standing division of responsibility for election financing, and your support for the pending request, including appropriate state general funds.
MACo 2022 legislative initiative: guaranteeing equity in funding and the county’s role in elections
For 2022, a MACo legislative initiative aims to make the necessary and timely policy changes that balance the common goals of providing fair, open and transparent elections.
MACo advocates codifying the 20-year precedent that voting machines and associated systems be a shared funding responsibility between state and counties, and ensuring appropriate local input for large contract / purchasing decisions that compel county funds.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.
Previous cover of Conduit Street
BPW Breakthrough: Panel seeks and receives cost breakdown to help counties
MACo: fund new 50/50 state / county polls
Local Election Officials: Funding New 50/50 State / County Polls
Conduit Street Podcast: Featured Issues – Policy and Process
Public Works Council – Agenda for the September 15 meeting
MACo: electoral laws deserve a much needed restart