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Research shows how and why NC elections are underfunded

Across North Carolina early voting is in full swing and voters are heading to the polls.

How long the wait lines are, how many sites are open, and what machines voters use (along with unseen work outside of voting season to support voter databases and support candidate filing processes) all depend on funding.

North Carolina requires local governments — and specifically counties — to fund election administration. The level of funding and specific items funded make a difference in our experiences of voting.

And yet, election administration funding across North Carolina’s counties has averaged less than 1 percent of county budgets over the past three elections. In the most recent budgets for the Fiscal Year 2022-23, Stokes County makes the highest funding commitment as a share of the county budget and Onslow County the lowest.

Researchers’ most comprehensive review of election administration costs in 2000 found that administering an election averaged the equivalent of $17.10 per voter nationwide, when adjusted for inflation in 2022.

North Carolina counties should be reaching at least that annual funding effort given the documented costs for funding elections during the pandemic.

Analysis of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 county budgets available show that 16 counties meet the recommended funding level, and 64 fall short. Twenty counties did not have board of elections budget data available.

This election season, voters have an opportunity to participate in our democracy at the ballot box. And every year through our taxes, we participate by funding the infrastructure we need to ensure that every vote is counted and every eligible voter can fully participate in our democracy.

Alexandra Sirota is the executive director of the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, which first published this report.

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Research shows how and why NC elections are underfunded