[Image via ihatethewayyoueatcereal]

A new report looks at election costs and finds that state and local election officials will fall way short of the cash they need to conduct the 2020 election. The Hill has more:

Five key states will need millions more in federal funding in order to move forward with this year’s elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research released Thursday found. 

According to a report spearheaded by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, current federal election funds will cover less than 20 percent of the costs required for mail-in voting and other election changes in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Missouri. 

The report, which was also put together by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the R Street Institute and the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, examined the impact of the $400 million in election funds sent to states as part of last month’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

The review finds that each of the five states will only receive enough federal funding to cover between 10 and 20 percent of its election needs in 2020:

Georgia faces the biggest pitfall in funding, with the report finding that the $10.8 million the state received will only address around 10 percent of its election needs. This is primarily because mail-in voting has been historically low in the state, and now the state is funding the mailing of absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter. 

The more than $11 million given to Michigan only covers 12 percent of their estimated election costs this year, while the $7.6 million Missouri received will only cover up to 13 percent of costs. 

Ohio and Pennsylvania will fare slightly better, with the funding each state received able to cover between 16 and 18 percent of estimated election costs. 

The report tells a familiar, if frustrating story: election offices are being asked to do more to conduct and secure elections than their budgets would appear to support – especially at the local level:

Areas where more funds are needed include securing online election systems, sending out and processing mail-in ballots, and educating the public about changes to elections. 

While states are constitutionally in charge of running elections, the report’s authors argued that states do not have the money to address election needs on their own, with many facing serious financial challenges amid the pandemic.

Beyond state-level funding, the report concluded that local governments, not states, will be burdened with 90 percent of the estimated costs needed to ensure Americans can vote in primaries and general elections this year. 

The report renews the call for increased federal support for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Without funding from the federal government, there is little chance that state and local governments can shoulder the financial burden,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, nearly every state and local government in the country faces severe budget challenges this year.”

The report’s authors argued that “problems” during recent primaries could “increase dramatically” without the funds. 

Primaries have been postponed in many states, and in Wisconsin, dozens of coronavirus cases have been traced to the state’s recent primary in which many voters were forced to cast their ballots in-person. 

The groups involved in the report have all pushed in recent weeks for Congress to send states more funding for mail-in ballots. Their goal is for Congress to eventually send states a total of $4 billion in election funding.

The next coronavirus stimulus bill is expected to address numerous state and local issues, with Democrats including Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) leading efforts to get the election funds added in…

The report’s authors argued that the security of elections is paramount. 

“The federal government has the resources to ensure that state and local governments can run free, fair, and safe elections this fall,” the authors wrote. “We urge them to do so as soon as possible.”

This report is just the latest indication that the demands of elections during COVID-19 may stretch election offices’ budgets beyond the breaking point. Whether or not Congress manages to cover the entire shortfall (history suggests you should bet the under; I have used that picture above numerous times in the almost 8 years of this blog), it’s vital that policymakers and election officials alike recognize that the nation’s normal practice of underfunding election administration is going to be even more painful than usual in 2020. Dig deep and stay tuned…