Why state officials must put more money behind elections

By Nick Pressley, all voting is local action

February 15, 2024

Despite being the fifth most populous state in the U.S., Pennsylvania has a disproportionately small budget for elections. Although the Keystone State has 3 million more people than the state of Michigan, Pennsylvania’s State Department budget is $100 million less than Michigan’s. That needs to change.

If we truly want to ensure that our votes are being cast in a safe, efficient, and legal manner, we must fully fund our elections offices. A fully funded elections system would include clearer directions for voters that results in less confusion, better poll worker training that results in less mistakes at voting sites, and more drop box availability across the Commonwealth. All of this would lead to increased confidence in Pennsylvania elections.

There are a number of benefits that increased election funding from the Pennsylvania Department of State would have on our voting process. Here are a few key improvements that would be made with more funds:

  • Provide full-time internal staffing of the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system. This would make it so that voters across the state are appropriately registered and there are no unwelcome surprises when they go to the polls. 
  • Train new and existing county-level boards of elections staff. Having well-trained workers at county election offices can allow our elections to run more smoothly. They are integral in assisting voters on election day and providing electoral support during the other days of the year.
  • Have money for potential litigation support. Now more than ever, Pennsylvania’s elections are being contested by bad-faith actors and conspiracy theorists. We saw litigation be necessary when three counties refused to certify legitimate election results in the 2022 primary.
  • Provide an in-house language access coordinator. Pennsylvanians don’t just speak one language. These coordinators are needed to make elections accessible to voters across our diverse state, regardless of the language they speak. This ensures that language minority groups are not targeted and are able to exercise their right to vote.
  • More efficient county-level boards of elections. Boards of elections need the appropriate funding to administer basic voting measures, for example, the money to print, ship and count mail-in ballots on time. 
  • Promote voting on college campuses. With 14 public universities in the Commonwealth, the Department of State needs student liaisons on campuses throughout Pennsylvania who can effectively communicate to their student body how to register to vote and how to cast a ballot.

Unfortunately we’ve seen recently how certain processes get affected by Pennsylvania having one of the smallest election budgets in the country. In Bucks County, for example, around 200 provisional ballots had to be declared invalid due to poll worker error because the poll workers did not place provisionals in the required secrecy envelope. Centre County election officials routinely open dropboxes late and then shut them down early during election season, citing funding and staffing issues. And Luzerne County has run out of paper ballots in each of the last two elections. This is because untrained election workers have repeatedly ordered the wrong size.

We can’t have a lack of funding lead to clerical or administrative errors that conspiracy theorists can then latch onto to claim the voting process is broken or rigged. Election deniers in Pennsylvania take advantage of underfunded elections by calling necessary voting processes into question. Having a strong and well-resourced election system in place can silence these anti-democratic actors and allow voters to be heard.

Last year, the Department of State approved a minimal increase for election funding in the 2024 budget. That’s a small step in the right direction, but state legislators must come together to include more money into the budget for overseeing elections. A fully funded elections system is pivotal in ensuring that our votes are being counted in a safe, efficient, and legal manner.

This is why All Voting is Local Action, along with its partners across the state, is working to ensure that counties have the funding they need to properly administer their elections. For more information on the cost of state elections and election budgeting, check out our report here.