Massachusetts Dispatch: Projecting Elections Costs

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The 2009/2010 Massachusetts special elections that elected U.S. Senator Scott Brown cost approximately $7.8 million. The state auditor’s office had estimated the cost would be close to $7.2 million.

Why was the estimate so close to the mark? In 1983, the state mandated that polling places run for an additional three hours to ensure uniformity across the state in non-local elections. In accordance with the Local Mandate Law, the legislature funds the first three hours while municipalities fund the remainder.

Because of this mandate, the auditor’s office has a 26-year history of collecting data to cost out the first three hours of an election—every biennial election since 1984. Since the majority of elections costs are primarily personnel-driven, and thus predictable year to year, data-driven estimates based on this history are usually not too far off.