Minnesota's 2020 presidential primary is expected to cost the state $11.9 million — more than three times initial estimates, Secretary of State Steve Simon said Friday.
Simon said the new figure is based on a recent survey of election workers across each of the state's 87 counties. He attributed the higher cost to the addition of two new major political parties on the ballot, local governments' expectations for overtime and temporary staff, and rising costs associated with postage and election judges.
"What's useful about this exercise is it reveals to the public for the first time the costs of running a statewide election," Simon said in an interview Friday.
Major political parties have picked up the tab for running straw balloting every four years under the state's previous caucus system. The March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary — for which absentee voting begins January 17 — must instead be paid for using taxpayer dollars, under an appropriation approved by lawmakers in 2016 when the Legislature voted to move to a presidential primary system.
Citing costs, Republican parties in four states — but not Minnesota — reportedly intend to cancel their 2020 presidential primaries, a move that could hamper long-shot GOP challengers to President Donald Trump.
Simon certified the new $11.9 million price tag in a letter sent to Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans last month. The letter, obtained Friday by the Star Tribune, came ahead of a Sept. 1 deadline to allow Frans' department to transfer the money to an account to cover costs such as printing ballots, postage, preparing polling places and electronic voting systems, and compensation for election workers. The final tally still has not been calculated.
When the Legislature in 2016 approved switching from a presidential caucus system to a primary, it estimated the cost to state and local governments at about $3.7 million. That prediction held until Simon's Aug. 28 letter to Frans. Simon wrote that the original figure was "under-calculated" because the legislative process in 2016 didn't allow enough time for a survey of county election administrators.
But Simon said the greatest new cost is the addition of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party and Legal Marijuana Now Party to the ballots. That has doubled the costs of printing and mailing ballots and programming election machines, "generally increasing the complexity of the administration" of the presidential nominating primary.
Simon added that the original estimate did not account for temporary staff and overtime expenses or the costs for administering mail balloting, extra training for election judges and administering the balloting processes for Minnesota voters in the military and overseas. Only nine of the state's 87 counties have full-time staff dedicated to running elections. Because the primary will take place during winter, when many election judges may be out of town, Simon said many jurisdictions also expect to shell out more while trying to attract new judges.