SALT LAKE CITY — County officials are asking the state to help cover the $1.5 million in primary and general election costs associated with filling the U.S. House seat in Utah's 3rd Congressional District.
State lawmakers, elections officials and a representative from the Utah Association of Counties discussed the cost expectations for the upcoming special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, during a Wednesday meeting at the Capitol.
Running the special election simultaneously with municipal elections should keep the overall price tag down, officials said, but much of the costs will still fall on the counties.
"Money can be saved if you run multiple elections at the same time," said Justin Lee, deputy director of elections with the lieutenant governor's office. "We are saving quite a bit of money, but we're not saving all the money."
Municipalities can print ballots with both the 3rd District and local election options, and they could share polling staff and facilities, allowing for some cost savings, he said.
Despite sharing opportunities for local elections, only about half of the 54 municipalities included in the 3rd District will actually hold municipal elections that can run with the special election on Nov. 7, Lee said. Municipalities not holding local elections, as well as unincorporated areas, would pass on the special election costs to the counties, he said.
Additionally, the election website and database were only designed to run one election at a time, Lee said, and running overlapping elections would require "significant programming costs."
For municipalities where no more than one person is running for an open seat, the municipal election can be canceled, shifting cost of the special election to the counties.
"The majority of this cost is going to come at the primary election, where we have a Republican primary election with the special election," said Arie Van De Graaff, with the Utah Association of Counties. "We have to cover the entirety of the 3rd District."
Van De Graff said counties anticipate saving more than $1 million by combining the special election with the municipal election, but Lee said counties are still anticipating a cost between $385,000 and $435,000 to cover races that are not combined with municipal elections.
"We have a responsibility to run this election. Obviously we don't want to pay for it," Van De Graaff said. "We thought about all maybe sleeping in cots in the offices to save that money, but that's not going to work for us, so any help from the state, we would appreciate."
Despite previous disputes between lawmakers and the governor's office over the special election process, lawmakers accepted little responsibility in resolving the problem of costs to the counties.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said because the Legislature was not involved in setting the election process, it would look to the governor's office to cover the cost.
"At this point, the counties would be on the hook for the tab," Lee replied.