Some Ramsey County cities and school districts are facing a nearly 40% increase in the cost of election services, largely spurred by St. Paul's looming $15 minimum wage and the rise of early in-person and absentee voting, which require more work to administer.

The county, which runs elections for a dozen cities and five school districts, will bill those jurisdictions a combined $3.8 million in 2021-22 for its election services, up from $2.7 million last year.

The County Board approved several of the new agreements with cities and school districts at its Tuesday meeting.

Election judges will get a 50% raise to $15 an hour, to better compete with other counties and to meet St. Paul's $15 minimum wage, which takes effect in summer 2022. The last time Ramsey County increased election judge pay was in 2016.

Early in-person and absentee voting, which are more labor intensive, also factor into the cost increase.

More than 65% of the 297,500 ballots cast in Ramsey County in the 2020 general election were absentee, which includes early in-person voting. That trend was building even before the COVID-19 pandemic, county spokesman John Siqveland said.

The number of election judges in Ramsey County increased by more than 50% from 2016 to 2020, when 1,861 were employed. Those judges staffed early voting locations throughout the county.

The county also recruited more bilingual election judges and expanded interpretive services to help on Election Day, and launched a campaign to inform the public of their voting options.

St. Paul and the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) hold the largest election contracts with Ramsey County. St. Paul's election costs will increase from $1.5 million to $2.1 million, in an agreement that was approved by city leaders in May.

The school district's contract will increase from $543,000 to $760,000. The school board approved the new agreement with Ramsey County, but several board members lamented the increased costs.

"I just want to, for the record, say I don't like this," said Board Member Chauntyll Allen at a recent meeting.

Allen said the additional $200,000 that will go to pay for elections could have been used for books or curriculum. Given the constitutional importance of elections, Allen said she wondered why "higher-up" entities didn't cover those costs.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037