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Posted at 5:59 PM ET, 01/10/2011

D.C. special election isn't going to be cheap

By Mike DeBonis

Back in November, I wondered whether the District's special election to fill an at-large D.C. Council seat could be done on the cheap -- that is, less than the $500,000 the Board of Elections and Ethics estimated it would cost to run a full-scale election.

Turns out the answer is no.

Last week, BOEE Executive Director Rokey W. Suleman II sent Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) a menu of options for conducting the election, now set for April 26. None costs less than $624,000 -- well over the $590,000 currently budgeted.

Option 1: A full 143-polling-place election would cost $829,000. That price, however, eliminates cuts down on precinct staffing and early voting at satellite voting centers in each ward -- i.e. early voters would have to trek down to One Judiciary Square to cast a ballot.

Option 2: Cutting the number of election-day precincts in half gets costs down to $779,000 -- a relatively paltry savings for a potentially confusing solution.

Option 3: Though once thought of as a less expensive alternative, voting by mail turns out to be the most expensive alternative. The cost of printing and posting ballots for each registered voter would cost $1.6 million.

Option 4: The least expensive option, costing $624,000, is to use "voting centers" -- two per ward -- where voters from any part of the city could go to any center and cast their ballot over a three-day period. Suleman writes that this option is "a reasonable and viable alternative but will require significant work in the next 90 days to implement."

Cheh had been skeptical of any option that did not afford the full 143 precincts on election day. But she now says she's willing to consider alternatives. "There are things to weigh -- one of them, obviously, is cost in a time of constrained budgets," she said.

Much, Cheh said, will depend on a hearing she has scheduled for Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. in Wilson Building Room 412. "I want to hear from as many people I can," she said. "If everyone says, 'Eh, no big deal,' why not save the money?"

There is some good news, budgetarily: The city will likely not have to shell out for yet another special election to fill the Ward 4 seat on the State Board of Education vacated by Sekou Biddle, who resigned Friday to accept the D.C. Democratic State Committee's interim appointment to the at-large seat. Under city election law, the Board of Elections and Ethics is empowered to schedule the two elections concurrently, so Ward 4 voters will select both an at-large council member and a State Board of Education member.

By Mike DeBonis  | January 10, 2011; 5:59 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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