The price of democracy; how much does it cost to hold an election?


The ability the cast your vote on election day is the single most important expression of democracy.

But democracy is far from free, and so is the cost of the election.

“We estimate that it comes to a little bit more than $1.5 million per election,” said chief election officer Scott Nago.

So where does the bulk of that cost come from? Nago says look no further than that computer you slide your ballot into after marking your votes.

“The biggest expense comes from the voting systems themselves, provided by the vendor who also tabulates the ballots. That’s about $855,000,” Nago said.

Nago says the electronic systems are designed to help people with disabilities vote independently, and are federally required.

The good news is the cost or printing the ballots is included in that $855,000 sum.

What’s not included is the cost of shipping the ballots across Oahu and to the neighbor Islands.

“The shipping of ballots, we estimate it to be about $100,000 and that includes the shipping to the neighbor islands as well as the delivery and collecting of ballots on election day with the cabs,” Nago said.

The final large chunk of cash goes to the people making sure the elections go off smoothly.

While the Hawaii Office of Elections employs about 30 people, all of whom were busy Tuesday preparing informational packets to be delivered to all the precincts statewide, there are also roughly 4,000 volunteers.

The term “volunteer” can be used somewhat loosely as each one of them earns a stipend for their service.

“One of the bigger expenses is the $415,000 for election day officials and that includes their stipend… a range of $85 to $100-something, and also we spend about $75,000 for supplies at the polling place. Another big chunk is $150,000 that goes toward voter (education). That also includes our legal requirements to print the election day proclamation in the newspaper, so we spend a lot of money there too,” Nago said.

Despite all the money that’s going into running elections, voting statewide has gone down in recent years.

According to the Office of Elections, just over 41 percent of registered voters in the state cast their ballots in the 2014 primary election.

For the 2014 general election, just over 52 percent of voters cast their ballot — the lowest percentage since statehood.

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