Local county election officials estimate it will cost them almost $2 million for the two special elections the state is using to replace U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Gov. Chris Christie chose a special primary Aug. 13 and a special general election Oct. 16 to replace Lautenberg, who died June 3. The state Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge last week, clearing away the last potential roadblock.
The nonpartisan state Office of Legislative Services has said the two elections would cost a cumulative $23.8 million. But in New Jersey, the counties conduct these elections, so Christie’s decision has left it up to them to sort out the mundane tasks of budgeting and staffing the polls.
County officials said they expected the state would reimburse them for the election, but questions remained, said Cumberland County’s Deputy Clerk, Barbara D. Fowler. She said Robert Giles, the director of the state Division of Elections, said Cumberland County would be repaid. However, she said, “we’ve been given no detail.”
So absent specific guidance, she said the county is saving its receipts and tabulating the special costs as they come.
These elections are the first special statewide elections in years. Without an exact model, officials are also basing their planning on turnout from several elections, including last year’s June presidential primary and 2008’s one-of-a-kind state presidential primary, held in early February.
But expectations aren’t consistent.
John Piatt, a manager in Atlantic County’s elections office, said their estimates were based on the 2012 primary. It cost about $115,000 for the County Clerk’s Office to print the ballots, but he has estimated a lower turnout for the one-seat election.
“We would expect a little less because of the volume for this election may run a little less,” Piatt said.
John Mooney, Atlantic County’s elections superintendent, based his estimates on the 2008 special presidential primary costing about $390,000 to staff and oversee. John McCain and Hillary Clinton won those respective Republican and Democratic primaries.
State lawmakers created that early primary election in hopes of being relevant to the presidential race. Citing costs, they later reverted to the longstanding June primary.
“That cost $390,000,” Mooney said, to staff and hold the 2008 primary. “You take the $390,000 and that was five years ago, and things go up, so I estimate about $410,000-$415,000 an election.”
County employees may work overtime getting the voting booths ready for the November’s gubernatorial race. “You’re around $830,000 for the two races) and it may approach to $850,000,” Mooney said. “But we’ll accomplish it, the duties, we will accomplish it.”
In Cape May County, Mike Kennedy, a county Board of Elections registrar, said it takes at least 15 working days to clear the election machines and there may not be enough time to prep them between the Oct. 16 and Nov. 5 election.
It cost Cape May County $60,000 to rent voting machines in 1992, he said, but those were mechanical devices.
“We’re in contact with other states and some other counties in New Jersey to see if they have voting machines,” Kennedy said.
Location and poll workers not used to working in the summer may also be an issue in shore towns, Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti said.
Doug Dunhour, another Cape May County Board of Elections registrar, noted residents of all four towns on Five-Mile Beach vote at the Wildwoods Convention Center. That could be hard to secure in the summer.
Counties also reported widely varying cost estimates.
Cumberland County officials said the elections could cost as little as $215,000 apiece, between 30 percent and 40 percent of other counties’ estimates.
Fowler said there are fewer Cumberland County voters than in other counties, and Cumberland may need fewer polling places. She said, “It’s really a population factor.”
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