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State auditor says it will cost $2 million to keep polls open in 2022

The Ward 8 polling station at the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Ward 8 polling station at the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The state will owe cities and towns more than $2 million to keep polling places open for additional mandated voting hours during the September 2022 state primary and November 2022 general elections, Auditor Suzanne Bump said Tuesday.

Under the 1983 Uniform Polling Hours Law, cities and towns must keep polling locations open for at least 13 hours on primary and general election days, an increase from the previously-required 10 hours of voting. The law also directs the auditor to certify what offering the extra hours will cost municipalities with the costs to be paid through the secretary of state's office.

For fiscal year 2023 elections, including the state primaries in September and the general election in November, Bump said the extra hours will result in $2,083,736.08 in added costs for municipalities. She said last year's redistricting and reprecincting efforts resulted in an increase of $206,634.60 or about 11 percent from her office's preliminary certification, with 89 communities across Massachusetts expected to incur higher costs as a result of the changes. Boston is expected to have the highest cost of complying with the law at $245,835, while West Stockbridge reported the lowest expected costs, at $229.50.

"Our democracy is strengthened when we make it easier for residents to access the ballot box," Bump said. "Expanding access to the polls is important, but comes at a significant cost to municipalities, which is why the work my office does to ensure they are adequately reimbursed is some of the most important work we do."

Since 1984, the state auditor's office has certified approximately $32.2 million in direct state payments to cities and towns to make them whole for complying with the mandated 13 hours of voting, Bump said. She also renewed her call for the Legislature to establish a regular way to reimburse cities and towns for the costs of early voting, which Beacon Hill Democrats recently expanded, and said the Uniform Polling Hours Law could be a model.

"Early voting has been a success in the Commonwealth, but the lack of a consistent and predictable method for funding this service has created uncertainty in local government budgets," Bump said. "The state should create a permanent process to allocate funds to cities and towns to provide early voting and vote-by-mail, and it should be modeled after the success of the Uniform Polling Hours Law."

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