Early voting costs counties $2.6M, but hasn’t increased turnout yet


Photo from MikeD378

By Glynis Kazanjian

Forty-six early voting centers will open Oct. 27 in Maryland for the 2012 presidential election, but it is not clear that the convenience is worth the $2.6 million price tag taxpayers are paying for the new benefit.

Overall, voter turnout has not increased, and one national study suggests early voting may have depressed turnout in several states, possibly because election day loses its stimulating effect on non-voters.

Since Maryland implemented early voting in 2010, a small percentage of the electorate has taken advantage of the six-day, pre-election period now afforded under law. Only 2.4% of eligible voters used early voting centers in the 2010 and 2012 primary elections and 6.3% in the 2010 general election, according to the State Board of Elections.

The percentage of early voters has steadily climbed among those voting — 9.6% in the 2010 primary, 11.7% in the 2010 general, and 13.4% in the 2012 primary — overall voter turnout decreased when compared to the 2006 and 2008 elections.

According to at least one political analyst, the bang is not worth the buck.

“Early voting is actually a waste of taxpayer money that does not boost turnout,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “In a study of the 2008 election, researchers at the University of Wisconsin actually found that early voting results in lower turnout – not higher. Specifically they found that though more than 30 percent of votes cast in the 2008 presidential race arrived before Election Day, the study determined early voting actually depressed turnout in a typical county by 3 percentage points.”

This national study found that same-day registration encouraged turnout of non-voters more han did early voting. Election-day registration produced one-stop shopping, with no delay between registering to vote and the actual voting. Maryland does not allow election-day registration.

Local governments pay most costs

In 2010, 24 local boards of elections spent $2.6 million to implement early voting. The cost is expected to be about the same, “at least $2 million” for the 2012 elections, according to Department of Legislative Services staff. State expenditures are estimated at $360,000, similar to the cost incurred in 2010.

But those who sponsored the legislation say providing additional access to voters outweighs the costs, and the new program needs more time.

“The cost of having access to polls is worth every penny,” said Del. Justin Ross, D-Prince Georges. “The right for Americans to vote is the most important right we have as Americans. Providing easy access to allow people to vote is a burden we must carry.”

“Because early voting in Maryland is still new, I think we should give voters the opportunity to become more accustomed to the process to get a better gauge of how many people might take advantage of it on an ongoing basis,” said Del. John Olszewski, Jr., D-Baltimore County. “I do not support eliminating early voting, but once we have a sense of the voting numbers and patterns, would be open to the idea of reducing a few days — if the reduction would result in meaningful savings and still give voters every opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Voters approved it in 2008

In 2008, Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing early voting in the state. In 2009 House Bill 1179 passed, paving the way for the implementation of early voting centers.

Local governments are now mandated to provide between one and five early voting centers, depending on a county’s registered voter population. Facility usage fees, staff, including election judges, and security are among the recurring costs to be covered, as are voter education, outreach and communication.

32 states, plus Washington, D.C., have early voting.

In 2011, Del. Bill Frank, R-Baltimore County, attempted to repeal early voting, but without success.

“The evidence showed in state after state that the number of people voting and the voting percentage did not go up at all in any of the early voting states,” Frank said. “Why are we spending that much money and not seeing any increase in the voting turnout? It is fine to make it more convenient for people, but at what cost?”

Early voting centers will be open from Oct. 27 through Nov. 1. For more information, go to the State Board of Elections website.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

About The Author

Len Lazarick


Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Jeff

    I don’t think it’s the government’s job to push people to vote. If they can’t bother to do it on voting day, we shouldn’t spend extra money to get them out to vote. That said, why can’t voting be on a Friday/Saturday?

  2. Rebecca Wilson

    I serve as an election judge in a precinct where most voters are working people who need to vote before or after their work day. Our lines are very long in the early morning and again in the evening, but during the middle of the day the precinct is almost empty. I would imagine that early voting follows the same pattern, since most people are not able to vote during the work day. Each time I have voted early, I have been the only voter in a polling place equipped with dozens of machines. With that in mind, perhaps one way to reduce costs while still making voting convenient for working folks would be to change the hours and times it is offered. Perhaps eliminate the weekdays and instead offer it on the two weekends before the election, or change the weekday hours to 6:00 to 10:00am or 4:00 – 11:00pm or something that more closely matches the times when working people are available. Most early voting centers are not as convenient for voters as their own neighborhood precinct is, so additional commute time needs to be factored in.

    I also agree that same-day registration during early voting would be an effective way to increase turnout without endangering the integrity of the election. Many voters who are forced to vote provisional ballots on election day have some problem with their registration that would be very simple to correct at the polling place. For example, they have moved but forgot to update the address on their registration, or perhaps some information was misspelled because the election official entering the data into the registration database couldn’t decipher their handwriting. Correcting these problems and allowing them to vote a regular ballot would save a lot of labor costs and headaches associated with canvassing provisional ballots, and those votes would be counted on election day instead of the week after the election.

  3. Bob Higginbotham

    Early voting does seem to make voter fraud more tempting. Those who sponsored this expensive foolishness would say they need more time 20 years from now after the government has wasted $100 million of our tax money. Those that are going to vote will do so on the designated day regardless. I believe absentee ballots are still available for those that, for a legitimate reason are not able to vote on NOv.6.

  4. Laura Muth

    Early voting would help increase voter turnout if Maryland passed an initiative to also allow same-day voter registration during the early voting period. Consider this: in the 2010 gubernatorial election in Maryland, 14% of voters voted during the early voting period. In North Carolina, where they have implemented same-day registration during the early voting period, that same year, 35% of votes were cast in the early voting period.
    Same-day registration during early voting can actually help guarantee that no fraudulent votes will be counted, because it leaves time to verify registration before the votes are actually counted. And in Iowa, which has also implemented same-day registration during the early voting period, it only cost $40,000 to do so and resulted in 100,000 new voters participating.
    We all want to ensure that elections are won fairly, but it is also important to remember that our democracy is strongest when the most people participate. Same-day registration during early voting can help us achieve both those goals.

    Laura Muth
    Maryland PIRG Associate

  5. William Campbell

    We tried early voting, and the results do not appear to warrant the additional costs. Can we revisit this concept and either revise it to increase voter participation and lower costs? How about replacing early voting with absentee ballots< or fwere days?

    • Mary Kiraly

      The study quoted in this article includes absentee voting in their “early voting” analysis. There is no way to know, from the information provided here, whether Early Voting is responsible for any decline in voter turnout. Many factors are at play. Moreover, it has been shown that the number of African-American and Hispanic voters has been increasing.
      It is important to point out that the use of Early Voting centers, nationally, reduces the amount of time that voters stand in line on election day. Long wait times have an impact on voters with small children, voters with multiple jobs, and voters in large precincts. The use of EV centers can reduce the possibility that politically-motivated election officials will frustrate the ability of selected groups of voters to successfully cast a ballot on election day. This happens when too few voting machines are allocated in certain precincts, when old or broken machines are deployed to certain precincts, when precincts are changed without appropriate notice, etc. All of these things happened in past elections, in other states, and are well-documented.
      While the use of “no excuse” absentee voting has increased nationally, it is not available everywhere. Voters who use absentee ballots will not have their votes counted on election day. In Maryland, the absentee ballot canvass begins on the Thursday after the election. Whereas Ealy Voting ballots are counted on election day. The election day results go a long way towards creating the impression of an election outcome.
      It would be more helpful if an analysis of the success of Early Voting in Maryland focused on the precincts in, and adjacent to, urban areas- where the voters that EV is intended to help live: voters with multiple jobs, voters with unpredictable work schedules, voters in large precincts, etc.
      Most voting system costs are shared equally by the State and the counties.
      Mary Kiraly

  6. Bruce Robinson

    Democratic congressional Candidate Wendy Rosen seems to have used early voting or absentee voting to increase turnout in either Maryland or Florida. It defies all logic to think that Early Voting doesn’t aid in voter fraud. Same day registration only exacerbates that problem by letting people vote early or absentee in one or more states and, while working as a campaign volunteer in another state, appear at the polls to register and vote, potentially again, for their favorite son.

    Look, if you will, at the logic of the legislators interviewed for the article. Delegates Ross and Olszewski both acknowledge that Early Voting does not result in the stated goal of increasing turnout, they acknowledge that turnout has been negatively impacted by Early Voting, but it is worth the cost and just needs more time to be effective.

    Ms. Rosen has demonstrated how Early Voting can be effective. Do we want to encourage that, or follow Delegate Frank’s idea and get rid of an ineffective, fraud encouraging, expensive hoax?

  7. Judy Colbert

    Early voting may not have increased turnout, but it may have prevented a downturn in turnout. I don’t own a car so I rent periodically. I’m much more likely to rent a car over a weekend (and include voting in my to-do list) than mid-week. Rental cars cost less per day over the weekend than midweek.


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