Money Problem of the Day: Cities That Can't Afford Elections

As many as 20 municipalities could face major problems come November, according to one expert.

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A handful of cash-strapped cities are worried they won't be able to afford the November election.

According to a new report from Reuters, these municipalities are scrambling to pay the costs associated with manning polling places. Some have said they'll put off road repairs while transit crews work on Election Day. Others may borrow workers from other departments to help count votes. In practice, this will likely mean fewer voting precincts, shorter hours and longer lines.

Frank Shafroth, director of the Center for State and Local Leadership at George Mason University in Virginia, told Reuters that about 20 cities and counties are facing this problem. Leading the pack is Detroit. Last week, the city clerk there told the Detroit Free Press that the government could not conduct the presidential election under the latest budget:

Detroit saw turnout of about 50 percent in 2008, which many observers attributed to the $1.5 million city authorities spent on the election, along with the enthusiasm for Obama's campaign among African Americans.

This time, if elections problems contribute to lower turnout among the city's 550,000 eligible voters to 45 percent, that could mean more than 25,000 fewer votes for Obama - a number that could be the difference in a close statewide election.

City officials, for their part, have pledged to fully fund the election "even if it means making cuts elsewhere."

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About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.