BOSTON — The 2020 election was like none other for so many reasons, but one of the things that made this election so different was the number of mail-in votes and the bill left behind.
The good news this election, we broke many voter turnout records.
The bad news, we also broke many expense records.
“I would say a fair estimate would be almost double,” said the president of the Massachusetts town clerks Association Nancy J. Talbot. “The costs were astronomical and cities and towns currently are bearing the burden of those costs.”
Depending on the jurisdiction, that may very well be true. This story started with a tip in Framingham about how the police there had to pay more than $20,000 for police details to protect voting boxes. So we checked in with dozens of cities and their police departments to see just how much more you the taxpayer had to pay this election.
The state statute only required police at polling places on Election Day. That was optional during the two weeks of early voting.
Totals haven’t been finalized in Boston but police tell us they spent thousands on detail and overtime protecting ballot boxes around the city especially after someone set a Copley Square ballot box on fire.
Fires making Boston pay more, but firefighters in Worcester making them pay less.
“Drop-off boxes were all housed at fire stations,” said Worcester city clerk Niko Vangjeli. “So we had security 24/7.”
Other cities like Chelsea saved money by choosing specific times to protect the ballot boxes … like Halloween night.
Speaking of Halloween, cities like Salem saved money by buying surveillance cameras to protect boxes. A $1,000 bill for both cities.
Cities like Quincy and Haverhill kept expenses down by simply patrolling near boxes.
In Lawrence, the chief says he budgets between $20-25,000 each election for police details to cover the election sites and they managed to stay just under budget this year.
Several locations like Randolph, Medford, and Watertown had just one drop off location at their City Hall, which did not require police resources.
Many jurisdictions tell us they are thankful they had few issues at the polls because if there were more issues, they would have had to spend more.
Even for the cities saving money on police, they had to spend a lot of cash on poll workers, PPE, and the mail itself.
“20,000 mail-in ballots in the state primary and we had a little over 35,000 mail-in ballots in the presidential election,” said Vangjeli. “So just in that, I would say well over $30,000 in mailing cost.”
Money not in their budgets. The goal now, getting some of it back.
“We are hoping to work with the state auditor’s office is to compile costs and to have some kind of standardized formula for reimbursement to the cities and towns,” said Talbot. “There’s an expectation that this was the state election and so cities and towns should be reimbursed for any additional costs.”
Even though you thought the election ended last week, it didn’t officially close until 5 pm Friday. That’s when the last of the overseas ballots were counted. A long and costly election, but 2020 wouldn’t have it any other way.