Hamilton County Election Cost

Voters in Chattanooga are going to the polls a week from tomorrow, and the only things on the ballot will be the municipal races for mayor and city council.

We know from past experience that having an municipal election for city government is more expensive than the primary or general elections. But we wanted to know the details..
In this edition of Waste Watch, we dig into the details, to find out exactly.. how much money we're talking about..

We obtained copies of the invoices that drop on the desk at the Chattanooga City finance office every time there is a municipal election. That off-year election is costing you more money than you think, and it's got some voters asking questions. "If they can (hold the election) in another time in the year and save the money, why not?" one registered voter asked me. "It's pretty simple, seems like to me."

Like all the other municipalities in Hamilton County, Chattanooga pays the Election Commission to hold the election, and in that office, Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan showed us something shocking about the cost.

"It's gone up every year, hasn't it," I asked. "Oh yes," she said.

From $77,000 dollars in 2001, to $99,000 in 2005, to $138,000 in 2009... That's a whopping 79-percent increase in eight years. And it will no doubt be more this year.
What's worse is that participation is going the OTHER way -- turnout is down from 32-percent, to 26-percent to 18-percent in those same cycles.

"It is what is is," says Mullis-Morgan, and the only response I could have was "it's staggering."

Mullis-Morgan says, if Chattanooga had held its election back in November, the bill would have only been $25,000 to $30,000 dollars, a tiny fraction of what this year's cost will be.

Maybe the city of Chattanooga chould learn something from the smaller municipalities in Hamilton County. Again, back in November when we all voted for President, U-S Senator and House members, East Ridge elected council members, Red Bank, Soddy-Daisy, and Lakesite elected commissioners, and Signal Mountain picked its town council.

We pointed that out to Chattanooga council president Pam Ladd, but she was unconvinced. "Couldn't you just change the city charter to make it easier to save.. actually save money? I asked. "We could change the charter, but whether or not it would save money by doing that, is the question," she says. "When we talked about it and looked at it, it just did not look as if that was a feasible decision to make."

That infuriates the Chattanooga voters we talked to. "Get it right," he told us. "Do it another time with the other elections. Go with the flow."

The best argument we heard against moving the city election is that, with the big national races getting all the attention, it's hard for voters to notice local races. But again, that's something many of the smaller municipalities have learned to live with.

By the way, Collegedale sees it the same way as Chattanooga. That town is also spending extra money to have a stand alone city commissioner's race on next week's, "off-year" ballot.

You can Depend on Us to let you what the bill is for next week's municipal election.

In the meantime, city voters need to get their money's worth by showing up in droves to vote. That way we could at least pull down the cost per vote.

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