- Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump
- Division of Local Mandates
Media Contact for Auditor Bump Highlights Her Office's Work to Ensure Elections Resources for Municipalities
Mike Wessler, Communications Director
Springfield — Good afternoon and thank you, Marie, for that introduction and also for your leadership of the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association. I commend you for not only taking on the presidency of this important organization, but for your long-standing commitment and service to the residents of Great Barrington.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of addressing you at your winter conference. You all were just catching your breath from a long, chaotic, and unique election cycle, which included the inaugural round of early voting, and my office was finalizing its determination as to whether this early voting option constituted an unfunded mandate.
As you know, my DLM did determine that parts of the law—specifically related to requirements of space, staffing, and privacy—did constitute an unfunded mandate. In total, our analysis found that cities and towns collectively spent nearly $720,000 in 2016 on these mandated, but un-reimbursed, costs, ranging from Arlington’s $20,000 to Petersham’s $20. Boston, by the way, incurred $400,000 in optional costs.
That 22 percent of voters cast their ballot early, and that 73.4 percent of you said that voters, especially the elderly and disabled, were pleased to avoid the voting day lines, shows that this type of convenience and flexibility is something voters want. This means that failing to adequately fund early voting is a disservice to not only the men and women in this room who are tasked with running elections on the local level, but also to the voters who want to take advantage of this opportunity.
Like any priority, if we as a state believe it is important to make it easier, smoother, and more convenient for individuals to vote, it is incumbent upon lawmakers to ensure that adequate funding and resources are provided to successfully implement such a policy. While there was measurable voter satisfaction, you folks faced more planning and staffing costs (75 percent of you reported incurring more than incremental costs), a slowdown in completion of your other work, and voter suspicion.
Because of this principle and the amount of work my office staff did with legislators to help them understand the analysis behind the determination, I am surprised that subsequent supplemental budgets last fiscal year did not include monies to fund reimbursements to those communities that incurred costs. (Perhaps the Legislature thought that for many costs the amounts were de minimus.)
Your ideas for improvements to early voting are rational, from consolidating early and absentee voting to feeding the ballots as they are cast.
I have encouraged lawmakers to work to address this unfunded mandate-and I remain optimistic that they will do so. Through uniform polling hours reimbursements, we have seen how we can successfully develop solutions to ensure local clerks have the resources they need to serve the voters in this area.
On that note, I want to thank you all for your work to help my office calculate the uniform polling hours reimbursement for the 2018 elections. Based on the information you forwarded to my Division of Local Mandates, the Commonwealth will be able to provide approximately $1.9 million to cover these costs for cities and town. This brings the total cost certification to $27.5 million for election efforts since this process began in the mid 1980’s. Because of your work, this year’s was by far the most efficient and smooth process for calculating this number. So thank you for that.
Beyond using our recent mandate determination to address shortcomings of laws already passed, I am hopeful lawmakers will also use it to inform future decisions as well.
On Beacon Hill, there is currently an important debate happening about whether Massachusetts should build on the model of early voting and expand to allow election day voter registration, or even implement automatic voter registration for all eligible citizens. And of course, these debates take place on the heels of a Superior Court ruling striking down our state’s voter registration deadlines.
While I will not wade into the merits of these policy debates, I did recently submit a letter to Senator Anne Gobi and Representative John Mahoney, the Chairs of the Joint Committee on Election Laws on the matter.
In this letter, I asked that as the committee moves forward, they keep in mind the impacts their decisions will have on municipalities. I made clear that implementing same day registration would almost certainly impose new costs on cities and towns, and not including funding in any final law would be a disservice to voters and election officials. I also encouraged them—if they choose to pursue automatic voter registration—to do so in a manner that would have no impact on local governments. That means, among other things, conferring with all of you to forecast and appropriate in advance the funding that will be necessary for you to make the arrangements that will be necessary for you to execute on this new program.
A failure in a program like this will only fuel the cynicism and hostility towards government that imperils our communities right now. Unfortunately these emotions are being stoked right now by the formation of the federal Election Integrity Commission has been formed. Who knows its true purpose:
- Maybe it is just an attempt to legitimatize the bogus claim that 3 to 5 million fraudulent were votes cast last year;
- perhaps it is a cover for efforts to create a partisan advantage;
- perhaps it is something else, but we all know that it is not about election integrity.
As I have told you before, I trust you to ensure our elections are run with efficiency and integrity. Your hard work, and commitment to the voters in your community are why, when the votes are cast, regardless of whether their preferred candidate won or lost, they trust and respect the results of our democracy.
There is no more powerful single action that a citizen can take than casting their ballot. It is how they express not only their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the current direction, but it is also a concrete statement of what kind of city, state, and nation they want to live in. We owe it to them to make sure the process works.
I thank you once again for giving me the chance to speak with you all today, but more importantly I thank you for the work you do every single day.