When considering the economic ramifications of the implementation of a voting system, it is vital to look at the voting process in its entirety. It is imperative to compare the cost of various election systems over a 10 or 15 year time frame.
Financial considerations must include:
- Initial capital investment in the system, divided by the number of years the system is expected to be used
- Per election cost for ballot design
- Per election costs of ballot printing (times the number of elections per year)
- Per election cost of tabulating results and sending them to a central location
- Per election cost for staffing voting centers, including training prior to the election
- Annual costs of storage and maintenance of the system when not in use
- Annual costs of ballot storage following elections, in accordance with local regulations
It is a common assumption that manual voting is cheaper since the initial investment is significantly smaller than the investment required to buy voting machines and/or scanners. However, when all the above considerations are taken, MV is not any longer so attractive. It requires enormous and recurring labor, printing, transportation, guarding and storing costs.
Now, when we compare OS and DRE, a precinct based optical scan system has the advantage that one scanner can serve a large number of votes, and typically service a precinct which would require multiple DREs. But this advantage is eroded or eliminated by offsetting factors:
- An optical scan system cannot, by itself, service voters with special needs. So a second machine (DRE or ballot marker) must be added for each polling place.
- Optical scanners and ballot markers are usually more expensive, per unit, than DREs equipped with VVPAT. The cost of furnishing a scanner and ballot marker for a polling place would fund three or even four DREs equipped with VVPAT.
- In the United States, simple paper ballots typically cost 50 cents to a dollar apiece (and often more if they are multi page). To ensure there is no shortage during voting, each polling place must be furnished with a large number of ballots, including ballots in each of the required languages for the jurisdiction.
- While all systems (DRE, OS and MV) will leave a paper trail, the DRE receipt will be much smaller than the optical scan ballot, as it only records the selections made rather than the full slate of candidates for each office. Consequently, shipment and storage of the paper is easier and less costly.
The results of any economic analysis will vary depending on the size of the jurisdiction, the average size of its precincts or polling places, the number of elections conducted annually, and other factors. While estimations and assumptions will be required, only by completing this analysis it is possible to understand the true cost of a voting system. And because DRE prices have decreased substantially, preconceptions about relative costs of voting system alternatives may well be inaccurate, and need to be replaced by factual analysis.