Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria submitted her resignation effective July 1, 2022. This follows primary elections in which deadlines were missed and ballots went missing. While her resignation is appropriate, it does not solve the core issues. The cost of administering elections has skyrocketed and accountability has diminished. Harris County needs to eliminate the Elections Administrator’s Office and return the responsibilities of voter registration and election management to the Tax Assessor-Collector and County Clerk respectively. This will lead to more responsible budgeting decisions and increase lines of accountability.
The 2021-2022 budget for the Elections Administrator’s Office was $14,679,406 with a projected 2023 budget of $15,799,907. There has been no corresponding decrease in the Tax Assessor-Collector or County Clerk’s budgets to account for this increase. Therefore, it is not a cost neutral office and has added to the indirect costs of administering our elections.
Aside from the added administrative cost of the office, the price of administering elections has soared. The last time we had midterm elections was 2018. In 2018 the cost of administering elections was $3,488,797. In 2022 the cost is $13,360,850—a 282% increase. This translates into an increase of 270% per registered voter from $1.48 per registered voter in 2018 to $5.48 in 2022. The creation of the Elections Administrator’s Office has led to increases in both indirect and direct costs.
While costs have soared, performance has plummeted. Longoria has rightly taken the brunt of the criticism, but she’s not the only one culpable. Having an appointed bureaucrat as a scapegoat means elected officials—in this case Lina Hidalgo, Adrian Garcia, and Rodney Ellis—who should be held accountable for administrative failures and soaring costs have shielded themselves from culpability. Those responsible for creating and funding the Elections Administrator’s Office can now claim they had nothing to do with the elections’ failures when the truth is they enabled the failures by creating an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy which is the genesis of these problems.
There are two solutions. Eliminate the Elections Administrator’s Office. Returning the responsibility of voter registration and elections to the Tax Assessor-Collector and County Clerk creates a direct line of accountability which incentivizes more responsible governance. Bureaucracy reduces accountability whereas elections enforce it. Reducing bureaucratic redundancy can also reduce costs, but cost reduction will not occur without additional controls.
Adopt zero-based budgeting. We cannot ignore the irresponsible spending that is the hallmark of bureaucratic bloat. Aside from the numbers already cited, let’s not forget that Longoria’s resignation is not effective until July 1, 2022. That means she will collect 1/3 of her annual salary of $190,000 from now until her resignation is effective—approximately $63,300. The starting annual salary for a teacher in Houston Independent School District is $56,869. Zero-based budgeting will lead to more comprehensive budgeting discussions and more responsible decisions based upon need and performance rather than bureaucratic momentum.
Harris County is facing personnel deficits in all of our law enforcement agencies which has led to rising violent crime. While crime reduction is multifaceted, a good place to start is by responsibly managing our budget so we can allocate the needed resources to our officers and prosecutors. We do not need an Elections Administrator; we need fiscally responsible and accountable government.