published Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Chattanooga: Low turnout means costly election votes


by Matt Wilson

For about the cost of a sit-down lunch, Chattanooga got one ballot in the March 3 city election.

According to data provided by the Hamilton County Election Commission, each vote cost about $8.28.

The cost per vote was so high because of turnout described as “sad” by Hamilton County Elections Administrator Bud Knowles. Only about 18 percent of eligible voters — about 16,000 — cast ballots in the election.

PDF: COST PER VOTE

COST PER VOTE

* Total cost of March 3 election: $138,835.48

* Total voters: 16,768

* Cost per vote: $8.28

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

RUNOFFS

District 1

* Linda Bennett (i)

* Deborah Scott

District 8

* Leamon Pierce (i)

* Andraé McGary

District 9

* Peter Murphy

* J.T. McDaniel

For all Elections coverage, click here

Mr. Knowles said the total cost of the election, nearly $139,000, would have been about the same no matter how many voters turned out.

“I plan this staffing three to four weeks before an election,” he said.

In the 2005 city election, turnout was about 27 percent.

Chattanooga and other Hamilton County municipalities foot the bill for their own elections.

Given the low turnout, city officials have been looking for ways to reduce election costs, said City Councilman Jack Benson, chairman of the council’s Legal and Legislative Committee. One way, he said, is by reducing the number of early voting locations.

The Hamilton County Election Commission voted Monday to open only its headquarters — not the satellite locations in Hixson and Brainerd — for early voting in the April 14 City Council runoff.

The city also could save money by moving its election from March in an odd-numbered year to the same time as other elections, Mr. Benson said. For instance, it could have elections at the same time as the county so the cost could be split.

But that would take a referendum, he noted, because the election date is set in the City Charter.

Likewise, eliminating runoffs would take a referendum, said City Attorney Mike McMahan, but he argued that the runoffs should remain.

“It’s just a common election procedure,” he said.

Runoffs take place when a candidate does not receive 50 percent plus one vote in an election.

Mr. McMahan said electing candidates by a plurality rather than a majority could result in “a person in office with very little support.”

Election officials are expecting even smaller turnout in the runoff, which only covers three districts instead of the entire city covered in the general election.

“We feel like it’ll be a lot lower,” Chief Deputy Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said.

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