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Facts About Ballot Printing Costs

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Facts About Ballot Printing Costs

By Marge Acosta, New Yorkers for Verified Voting

This piece was originally posted on New Yorkers for Verified Voting. All ballot printing quotes were reconfirmed as of July 2007.

The most frequently expressed concerns cited by New York State election commissioners and legislators about the Paper Ballot Optical Scan (PBOS) System are (1) the cost of ballots, (2) lack of assurance that ballots will be delivered as promised, and (3) worries about getting ballots printed on time when last minute changes are necessary. To answer these concerns, New Yorkers for Verified Voting has updated its research into ballot costs as well as possible alternative arrangements for printing.

Objections to Our Data on the Cost of Paper Ballots

We stated in our 2005 report, “Paper Ballot Costs and Printing,1 that there are over 250 printing companies in the US that supply scannable ballots. We included an estimate from an Ohio company, Dayton Legal Blank, at 29¢ each for a Schenectady County ballot. We also offered details on some required specifications for printing scannable ballots.

Nevertheless, some continue to quote exorbitant ballot prices, arguing that ballots must be in a horizontal format; that the State mandates the use of certain printing companies; that excessive numbers of printed ballots are required. But nothing in New York State's election law supports these claims. At other times vendors claim that New York’s unique mandate for a full-face ballot necessitates charging higher prices. Some commissioners also see paper ballots as unworkable because some counties need to provide ballots in multiple languages.

Answering the Objections: Estimates from Printing Companies

First, with PBOS systems, poll site voters would have ballot-marking devices to translate English ballots into various languages, so jurisdictions that are not required to have multiple language ballots available at the poll site can meet HAVA language requirements without printing additional ballots. In jurisdictions where multiple language ballots are required, ballots combining three languages (such as the New York City Sample used in this report) can be used to consolidate multiple languages on a single ballot face.

Secondly, provisional, emergency and absentee ballots must be printed in all jurisdictions, no matter which voting system is utilized. Ballot printing costs are incurred no matter which system is used, DRE or scanner. However, in optical scan jurisdictions these ballots are the same as the poll site ballots for each election district. A printing maxim is that higher volume brings lower prices; the cost per ballot in PBOS counties will be lower than in counties using DREs.

As this report will demonstrate, whether printing single or multiple-language ballots, New Yorkers for Verified Voting has found that high prices are not necessary.

Our procedure for obtaining ballot costs

After verifying that it complies with current New York State election law as stated below,2 we used a New York City absentee ballot from the November 8, 20053 election as a sample from which to obtain several estimates. This ballot was chosen because the races and directions are written in three different languages – English, Spanish and Chinese – on one single ballot. The sample ballot we used has several long proposals, and uses a vertical format on one side and landscape on the other. It was converted from 8.75 x 14 inches to 8.5 x 14 inches to accommodate all optical scanners submitted for New York State certification.

Using this sample, we requested estimates from printing companies, giving specifications for two jurisdictions: Suffolk County, at 1 million ballots with 1047 different ballot styles, and New York City, at 4 million ballots with about 6000 different ballot styles. Since local races vary, each election district (ED) may require a different ballot style.

In our conversations with machine vendors and printers, we learned that each vendor recommends ballots of a certain thickness or paper weight, ranging from 60 to 110-pound text paper, for its scanner. Therefore, we specified an average 80-pound text paper for the quote. Additionally we asked that the cost of a perforated, numbered stub for each ballot, as required by New York, be included.

Ballot cost estimates

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Marge Acosta is the Long Island Representative for New Yorkers for Verified Voting.

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