GIF with bald eagle that says "the freedom to vote is sacred"
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Funding elections protects sacred act of voting

My father, who was born in a tiny village in lower Egypt, always says that the best thing he’s ever done is make sure his daughter was born an American. To him, being a citizen of the United States means being a participant in the greatest democracy in the history of humanity.

Since I was a child, he’s told me the story of the day he tried to vote no on the incumbent president staying president for life. Police with guns at the polling place demanded that he show them how he was voting and when they didn’t like his vote, they ripped it up and threatened violence if he didn’t change it.

Casting a ballot is a sacred act — it is done on the shoulders of our collective ancestry, ancestors out of whose centuries long subjugation and disenfranchisement was born a vow to build a system in which all people would participate in the administration of our government and the shaping of our future.

This sacred act seems almost too sacrosanct to quantify, but there is a very real financial cost associated with our elections remaining free and fair. Long before you begin reading voter guides or considering candidate platforms, state and county boards of elections are working to secure the funds necessary for your full participation in the democratic process.

As examples, one week of early voting comes at a cost of 89 cents per registered voter, and experts recommend two weeks to ensure adequate access to the polls. That is a cost of approximately $13 million dollars in our state189 multiplied by the figure of 7,236,309 total registered voters in NC captured from NCSBE on 4/10/23, then multiplied by two.. The printing of ballots comes at a cost of between 25 and 35 cents per individual ballot, while computerized voting machines are up to $3,000 apiece.

Funding has a direct impact on the actual number of votes to be counted. The more a county funds on elections, the higher voter turnout is. In fact, every additional 10 dollars spent per voter is associated with a 3.4 percentage point increase in voter turnout.

But unfortunately, in North Carolina, funding for elections is not keeping pace with our increasing population, changing requirements and laws, and the rising cost of delivering public services.

As the number of registered voters in N.C. has increased, funding to the State Board of Elections has fallen behind the cost of delivering government services. The number of registered voters in North Carolina has increased by 33 percent between the 2007 and 2023 fiscal years, while simultaneously the NC State Board of Elections budget for election administration, not including campaign finance administration, has decreased by 19 percent.

This underfunding has a disproportionate impact on People of Color — effectively, if even not intentionally, suppressing their votes. Polling place consolidations (meaning the combining of polling places, resulting in fewer places to vote) driven by decreasing budgets have led to Black voters waiting two times longer than white voters to vote. Underfunded technology leads to crude methods of maintaining voter registration lists and registering all eligible North Carolinians to vote.

Adequate public funding can disrupt these inequities and ensure that the ballot box is accessible to everyone in every community in our state.

Adequate funding for elections does come at a financial cost, but not nearly as high as the social cost all North Carolinians, especially North Carolinians of color, are being asked to bear by blocking the realization of our multi-racial democracy and the promise that together we can deliver opportunity and justice for all.

Footnotes

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    89 multiplied by the figure of 7,236,309 total registered voters in NC captured from NCSBE on 4/10/23, then multiplied by two.