Big election year. Big changes to election law.
And, maybe, big expansion to the budget for Philadelphia’s elections officials.
Mayor Jim Kenney is proposing an 84% increase over the current $12.2 million budget for the Philadelphia city commissioners, the three elected officials whose full-time job is to prepare for and run elections.
That additional $10.2 million would bring the commissioners’ total next year to $22.5 million.
In the five-year plan set to be unveiled Thursday, Kenney cites both the presidential election — which will require additional staffing, materials, equipment, and outreach to accommodate an expected spike in voter turnout — and implementation of the most significant changes to state election law in decades.
“The mayor is proposing these additional funds in recognition of the importance of coming primary and general election, and of the need to implement [the legal changes],” city spokesperson Mike Dunn said in a statement. “Based on what the commissioners have told us, we believe this investment will allow the commissioners to conduct future elections with proper staffing and equipment, and adherence not only to legal mandates but best practices.”
County elections officials across the state have warned that the legal changes, while intended to make voting more flexible and accessible, are a heavy administrative lift. Philadelphia elections officials have been particularly concerned about new voter registration deadlines that give people more time to register — and give officials less time to prepare polling place materials.
The city commissioners estimate they will need to increase their voter registration staff by 150% to accommodate the new deadline.
Similarly, the five-year plan notes the introduction of no-excuse absentee ballots will lead to an influx of mail ballots — the commissioners estimate a 200% to 400% increase over previous years — that will require more workers to process.
To meet both these needs, the five-year plan reads, the commissioners are “going to have to dramatically increase the number of employees, increase the amount of office space that the office occupies, procure the necessary equipment for the new staff, and modernize the structure of the department.”
Having rolled out new voting machines, the commissioners are also continuing their public education campaign, as many voters in the April 28 primary election and, in particular, the November general election will not have used the new systems before.
“The logistics of implementing a new voting system are not complete,” the plan reads, with the commissioners continuing to update their policies and procedures; moving into a new warehouse space; and purchasing electronic poll books. (Those were supposed to be used last November, but it’s not clear when they will actually be used in an election.)
It’s also unclear whether the increased funding will go beyond covering the additional administrative needs of the department. For example, additional resources could go to a variety of election-year efforts, including establishing quasi-early voting sites in the city.
After the proposed increase for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2021, the plan projects a funding drop of $8 million, or 35.7%, to $14.5 million for each of the following four years.
Kenney will present the five-year plan Thursday to City Council, which will hold hearings and must finalize a budget by the end of June.