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Conduct Your Own Operating Cost Comparison
... and let us know about it!
Rosemarie Myerson, a voter in Sarasota County, took the initiative to study the operating expenses of her county's elections office for a period of 6 years and compare those costs with the operating costs of the elections office in her neighboring county, Manatee.
Ms. Myerson's report
If you are interested in replicating Rosemarie's study in other counties, it should not take you very long. You may find that the data is already on the Internet. Below are guidelines from Rosemarie, based on the process she used and the lessons she learned.

Or, use her sample request for information as you construct your own.

1) Go to the Supervisor of Elections and purchase copies of the accountant's reports showing total annual expenditures. Rosemarie says:

I went directly to the Supervisor of Elections office and bought, for 15 cents per page, copies of the yearly reports of the independent certified public accountants for the Sarasota County's Supervisor of elections for the six years that I felt should be analyzed; three years with punch cards and three with DREs.

Manatee simply faxed to me their total annual expenses. This is all I used in my comparison. I found that their line items did not relate to the system used in Sarasota so I could not compare the data because it was sort of like discussing oranges with apples.

The three subdivided total expenditures categories that the Sarasota accountants used -- personal services, operating expenditures, and capital outlay -- sound like useful categories to consider in any study.

2) Be certain that you ask for the total annual expenditures for each year. The annual budget is not the same; usually the budget is much higher than what is actually expended.

3) You may find changes in the formats of the reports from year to year. Hopefully, you can get explanations from the county or the county's accountant.

4) You may also need to find out what some terms mean.

For instance one county listed $500,000 for furniture each year. Anything that costs over $1,000 is listed as furniture.

5) Also get the number of registered voters for each year. Then you can compare the total expenditures per registered voter in any year in any county.

I found that Sarasota County's three-year yearly average expenditure per registered voter was $12.37 compared to Manatee County's $8.18, a cost difference of $4.19 per registered voter -- 64.1% higher for the county using electronic voting machines.

6) Pay attention to the start and end dates of the fiscal year.

For example, in Florida, the fiscal year ends on September 30th, so the 2004 presidential election costs will be in the 2005 expenditures.

7) Note also which elections are paid for by the county.

In Florida, special elections are not paid for by the county, so the SOE's expenditures cover only county, state, and federal expenditures.

8) It is important to get the expenditures for at least a few years for each type of voting procedure used. Then you can see how expenses vary from year to year. It would make sense that they might be very high the first year of a new procedure.

9) Remember that Rosemarie's expense totals do not include the purchase cost of the machines. The county commissioners spent this directly from the county expenses and none to this was ever charged to the SOE's expenses.

I look forward to learning how other areas ' expenses relate to what I learned from Sarasota County. I do plan to get similar data for each county in Florida.

The important thing is to get the correct data and I think the annual report of the accountant should certainly contain the truth. You must use your head in reading the items.

~ Rosemarie

Ms. Myerson is a retired psycholinguist. Her field of interest was child acquisition of language and adult language loss due to brain lesion. Her research focused on language and the brain. She was employed at the VA Hospital in Boston and the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. She earned her Masters Degree at Harvard University Department of Linguistics and her Doctorate from Harvard University Department of Education. She now lives in Longboat Key Florida and first became concerned about the problems with electronic voting after reading the 2001 report from CalTech/MIT.

Democracy is not something you believe in
or a place to hang your hat,
but it's something you do.
You participate.
If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.
~ Abbie Hoffman

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