Monday, March 16, 2009

Economies of Scale in Elections


When one makes a large investment in infrastructure, it is most cost efficient to use the investment as much as possible. Elections departments use their investment in traditional election software frequently and reap the rewards of that investment as a result. Thus far, Pierce County has not used the Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) software investment more than once and, as a result, the county is not leveraging the investment wisely.

In a previous posting, we discussed the main method of gaining financial efficiency with RCV is to eliminate an election. An analysis of the 2007 primary and general elections shows the benefits of using the same software/hardware infrastructure for multiple elections. Using RCV in multiple elections would leverage the already in place investments while saving the costs of the additional election. An example of this would be if in 2009 the Port of Tacoma and the Metro Parks District of Tacoma were to use RCV in addition to Pierce County itself, it would save money for all three entities.

Lessons from the 2007 Elections

In the 2007 August primary election, there were 26 entities who shared $850,239.28 in expenses. In the 2007 November general election, there were 79 entities who shared $1,054,340.92 in expenses. The 26 entities which had a primary were allocated only $379,749.19 in general election expenses. This is less than half of the expenses incurred in the primary itself.

Why was the general election so much cheaper than the primary for those entities participating both the primary and general elections? The usage of the fixed costs of running an election were spread out over more entities in the general election than in the primary. The costs of printing and processing ballots were spread out over more entities. It is more efficient to hold multiple races in the same election.

Impact on RCV

Currently, Pierce County uses RCV for only county level positions such as County Executive and County Council. In current state law, there is no provision for local entities such as ports or park districts to use RCV in their elections. RCV activists have gone to the state legislature to ask for authority for Pierce County entities to use RCV. The Pierce County Elections Department has testified against this legislation, giving as part of the reason the large expense of the original investment expense. The Elections Department analysis ignores the fact that using the RCV investment more times will result in a decline in elections spending not an increase.

As discussed in an earlier posting, if the Port of Tacoma and the Metro Parks District were to use RCV as well as Pierce County in 2009, ALL three entities (County, Port and Parks) would save money!

Why? The expenses in the general election would be spread out over more entities and the expenses in the primary would be eliminated. It would make sense to leverage the already in place investments of RCV. The Port of Tacoma and the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma should consider taking advantage of the investment already made.

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At 10:04 PM, Anonymous Krist Novoselic said...


I think that eliminating the need for a primary scares election administrators. That could means budget cuts and the need for less staff. Opposing RCV is result of a bureaucratic self defense mechanism.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Thanks for the continued insightful coverage of this important issue!


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