Why the cost of a presidential election rose from $2.2M to $6.9M in Travis County

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As early voting gets underway Tuesday, counties are shelling out a lot more money to pull off the 2020 presidential election than in years past. Counties tell KXAN the biggest factor driving up costs: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has really done a number on every single county’s budget,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, Travis County Clerk. “It’s really bad.”

Travis County has transformed 37 sites into early voting locations, including gyms, meeting rooms and event centers, where social distancing can be achieved. Sanitation stations have also been set up at each voting center for poll workers and voters.

  • Travis County voting site 101320
  • Travis County voting site 101320
  • Travis County voting site 101320
  • Travis County voting site 101320
  • Travis County voting site 101320

DeBeauvoir said normally a presidential election would cost Travis County about $2.2 million, but this year all of the extras have caused the county to budget $6.9 million.

Here’s a breakdown of the new line items on the budget:

Travis County election PPE 101320
PPE for Travis County voting sites (Courtesy: Travis County Clerk)
  • Personal protective equipment for elections workers (sanitizing wipes, shields, table shields, deep cleaning, finger cotes, renting polling sites that have enough square footage for safe social distancing)
  • More mail-in ballots (it takes more money to print, mail and pay staff to process)
  • More workers needed to work the drive-thru ballot drop off site for 28 days
  • Extended hours at early voting mega sites on the last three days of early voting
Travis County 2020 Election Budget 101320
Travis County 2020 President Election Budget (Courtesy: Travis County Clerk)

There is financial aid available that will help bring the total price tag down a bit. Travis County said it has already received a $1.2 million grant from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA Grant Award) to cover some of the initial expenses.

“We may spend a little less on hand delivery [drop-off sites], and we are hoping to get some of our PPE expenses reimbursed by CARES funds,” DeBeauvoir said. “We will not know about that until later.”

Travis County says there is enough money in its general fund to cover the added expenses.

Smaller counties budgeting thousands more

Williamson County plans on spending about $428,000 more on the 2020 election than the last presidential election. Elections Administrator Chris Davis said the total estimated cost is $1.34 million, and the actual cost of the 2016 election was $912,000.

Elections Administrator Kristin Miles in Bastrop County said the cost estimate this year is $150,000. Past presidential election costs in the county have been about $75,000.

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