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How a small county got the money to buy “I voted” stickers and other election supplies

OCTOBER 29, 2020

Twenty-four electronic poll books to check voters in quickly: $45,000.

One high-capacity letter opener to process an onslaught of mailed-in ballots faster than human hands: $34,000.

Six stainless-steel ballot boxes with anti-tamper protection: $21,261.

Seven kits of disinfectant and protective gear to shield poll workers and voters from Covid-19: $2,500.

These price tags, provided to CalMatters by Kings County Registrar of Voters Lupe Villa, represent just a fraction of the costs associated with hosting a presidential election during a pandemic. Thirty-six million dollars in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is helping Villa and other California elections officials foot the bill.

The CARES Act, the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in March, included $400 million in new emergency funds from the Help America Vote Act. That legislation, passed in 2002 after Florida’s hanging-chad debacle stirred the nation into updating its outdated election equipment, helped California modernize and standardize its voting systems. Additional state and federal funding over the past two years enabled California to once again update its voting technology ahead of the 2020 election.

But then came the coronavirus, and small counties like Kings needed additional help preparing for an increase of vote-by-mail ballots and other costs associated with hosting an election in a pandemic. Villa spent the lion’s share of the $210,000 he received through the CARES Act on equipment meant to help process votes and expedite their count.

A smaller portion of the funding went to voter outreach and communication. A large part of safely shepherding a population through an election during a pandemic is encouraging them to vote early, by dropping ballots in an official ballot box or by sending them off by mail.

“One ballot in a ballot drop box means there’s one less voter going out to a polling place,” Villa said. Just one-fourth of the 60 thousand registered voters in Kings County have cast their ballots so far. “We don’t want three-quarters of our voters to show up on election day.”

Regardless of how they vote, everyone who does will receive a small, white “I Voted” sticker with a billowing American flag. Those also come at a cost. For sixty thousand of them—one for each registered voter—Villa paid $2,858.41.

Robin Estrin is a reporter at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. In California, CalMatters is hosting the collaboration with the Fresno Bee, the Long Beach Post and the UC Graduate School of Journalism.


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Robin Estrin ( 2021 )

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