With elections, you get what you pay for — and the costs are rising.

That’s the message Philadelphia elections chief Lisa Deeley delivered to City Council during a budget hearing Tuesday, pleading with lawmakers to provide more money — and in a stable, predictable way — as major elections loom.

The costs of running elections have exploded as Pennsylvania is transformed by new voting machines and the dramatic expansion of mail voting. The city commissioners, the office that runs elections, have repeatedly had to ask for additional “mid-year transfers” of money. In the current fiscal year, for example, the office is on track to spend about 24% more city money than originally budgeted.

This year, Deeley urged Council to simply give the commissioners all the money they’re asking for — allowing them to, for example, increase security of elections workers, implement electronic poll books, and pay for postage to mail ballots to voters. While Council has approved mid-year transfers in the past, Deeley said, the lack of stability undercuts election administration.

“We’ve had to return again and again for mid-year transfers, and all that time should have been used getting Philadelphia ready for 2022,” she said during the virtual hearing. “It was instead spent fighting for funding. I just cannot go on like this.”

Deeley asked for $27.1 million in city funding, an increase of $4.3 million over Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed $22.8 million budget. (The office would also receive an additional $2.8 million in grant funding from other sources but distributed by the city.)

The upcoming fiscal year will have two major elections: This November’s midterm elections, with open U.S. Senate and governor seats, and next May’s municipal primary, with City Council races and an open mayoral seat.

Deeley’s spokesperson said the commissioners originally requested $27.1 million of Kenney. In the Council hearing, Deeley made clear where she puts the blame for her ongoing budget frustrations: “It is the administration who is our biggest obstacle.”

A spokesperson for Kenney pushed back.

“It was disappointing to hear Commissioner Deeley’s testimony, considering the substantial time and effort the mayor’s administration has undertaken to support the commissioners’ operations,” spokesperson Kevin Lessard said.

He said the commissioners submitted their budget request more than six weeks late and that Deeley has “declined to move forward key recommendations” from a strategic plan worked on by the city and consultants last year, such as hiring a CEO and creating a position focused on equity and inclusion.

Whatever the ultimate budget, the number will be far more than what the city used to spend on elections: about $10 million, maybe $11 million in a big election year, with only small fluctuation. (Adjusted for inflation, those numbers would be higher now, but nowhere near the current budgets.)

Elections are very different now.

Back when nearly all votes were cast in person, the costs were relatively fixed: No matter the turnout, officials still opened roughly the same number of polling places, with voting machines for each precinct.

Then the city bought new voting machines, part of a statewide effort by Gov. Tom Wolf so every vote has a paper record. These machines are more costly to maintain — they need to be kept in a climate-controlled environment, for example, which helped drive the commissioners to move into a new warehouse in Northeast Philadelphia. And paying for the paper ballot going into the machines means costs rise with turnout.

The biggest change was the 2019 law known as Act 77, which said that any voter could use mail ballots without having to provide a reason.

Millions of votes have been cast by mail in the last two years. But counties have struggled to build out their mail voting operations, including hiring and training additional staff, obtaining new equipment, and setting up new procedures.

And many of the costs scale with turnout: As the number of mail voters increases, so does the cost of postage, paper, printing, and staff.

All of those costs are on top of the in-person voting system. Elections officials often say they now have to run two elections at once — and the costs reflect that.

With more funding, Deeley said, her office plans to implement electronic poll books that can increase the accuracy of voter records, reduce poll worker error, and speed the counting of votes. (It’s their second attempt to buy e-poll books, after discovering in 2019 that the system they purchased wouldn’t work.)

The commissioners would also hire and train more workers, step up its efforts to fight misinformation, and expand various voting access programs.