BPW Breakthrough: Panel Seeks, Receives Cost Split to Help Counties

At this week’s meeting of the Board of Public Works, Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkley pledged that a project to replace state-mandated electronic pollbooks and ancillary equipment would follow the same 50/50 state/county funding split as other comparable equipment since 2001.

The assertion came at the behest of Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both of whom raised concerns over a State Board of Elections plan to invoice county governments for 100 percent of the costs to purchase the necessary equipment and software — more than $26 million over the next three years.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo this week sent a letter to the Board of Public Works asking the State to honor its longstanding split of funding responsibility for elections.

Referencing the MACo letter, Comptroller Franchot said that asking county governments to fully fund state-mandated election equipment was “not a good decision.” “If [Secretary Brinkley] assures us that he’s going to address the MACo concerns, then I will drop my opposition,” said Comptroller Franchot.

“I think it’s absolutely essential that the pollbooks be replaced,” said Treasurer Kopp. “But I do not understand why this is not a 50/50 split between the State and counties, as is traditional…sharing the burden has been a good Maryland tradition.”

Counties administer and fund elections at the local level, overseeing polling places and coordinating poll workers every two years. While there are provisions in State law that establish the balance of funding for certain election-related costs, the extent to which other election-related costs are the responsibility of the counties, the State, or shared by counties and the State, is ill-defined.

Since 2001, the State has relied on uncodified language from one bill to govern the funding responsibility between the State and counties for voting machines and related systems. However, the statutory language is vague, and SBE often makes arbitrary decisions that shift administrative and cost burdens onto local Boards of Elections, whose operations rely on county funding.

From the MACo letter:

In the years since its passage, the one-half funding split has been honored for a wide range of equipment purchases, with state budgets including equal amounts of state general funds and special funds (reimbursable by county invoicing). MACo believes that the equipment request before the State clearly merits the same consideration.

MACo as an organization stands ready to work with the Board of Public Works, the State Board of Elections, and the Administration to bring about a mutually beneficial solution that reaches the needed level of service and respects county budgets and processes. Maryland Counties urge your support in continuing the longstanding split of funding responsibility for elections, and your support for the pending request including appropriate state general funds.

MACo this year advocated for legislation to update election laws with an emphasis on fairness, transparency, and accountability. The bill, which did not advance, would have required SBE to take necessary and appropriate steps to provide transparency and accountability for transactions that oblige county funds and afford ample opportunity for input from local governments and Maryland voters. The bill also sought to clarify and codify the 20-year precedent that governs state and local election funding to provide stability and predictability for State and local budgets.

The Board of Public Works — a three-member panel including Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp — reviews state agencies’ projects, contracts, and expenditure plans.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Previous Conduit Street Coverage

MACo: Fund New Pollbooks 50/50 State/County

Local Election Officials: Fund New Pollbooks 50/50 State/County

Conduit Street Podcast: Headline Issues — Both Policy and Process

Board of Public Works – September 15 Meeting Agenda

MACo: Election Laws Deserve Much-Needed Reboot