SIDNEY – The Shelby County Board of Elections budget request will increase by more than $50,000, from $381,970 in 2020 to $434,008 in 2021.

The Board of Elections met Wednesday in a special meeting to go over its 2021 budget submission for the Shelby County commissioners; board member Jim Thompson wasn’t present. The board will present its request at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Shelby County Annex.

The increased request largely is a result of increased costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grants and funding from the federal and state governments helped offset extra COVID-19 expenses this year, but the Board of Elections is unsure if similar funds will be available in 2021.

“We had operated under a series of grants that were specially authorized last year to address the COVID crisis, and we utilized that to be able to do the things we needed to do to comply with the law,” Chairman Jim Kerg said. “And unfortunately we have no way of knowing at this point in 2020 if we’re going to get any more grant money to help us with these costs.

“We can’t operate without being in compliance with the law, and to operate in compliance with the law it requires obviously greater human resources to accommodate the early voting requirements as well as the absentee voting process.”

While the Board of Elections plans to submit a request of $434,008, it doesn’t anticipate spending that much.

“Normally these numbers will come in something below what we’re estimating,” Kerg said. “But we want to make sure we give the county commissioners a maximum cost exposure for our budget.”

The budget request includes anticipated costs for holding three elections in 2021 – a primary election in May, a general election in November and a special election in August.

For each of the elections, the board budgeted $23,550 for paying poll workers. For the 2020 general election, it had 211 poll workers across 35 precincts – about six workers per precinct.

It’s unlikely that a special election would be held at all the precincts, which would decrease the board’s expenses.

“If we don’t have the special election at all, there’s $23,550 that will not be needed,” board member Doug Pence said. “We need to plan for a worst case.”

There will be other areas that the board anticipates savings as well.

With grant funding, the board was able to purchase new equipment in 2020 such as laptops. Thus, unless there are unexpected breakdowns, the board doesn’t anticipate needing to purchase new equipment in 2021.

“All of the equipment we planned to purchase we were able to do under the grant money and not charge the county,” Pence said.

Deputy Director Collin Claywell said ballot expenses also will be significantly lower than in 2020. Being an off-year election, turnout tends to be lower than during presidential election years. Also, absentee ballot expenses were much higher than normal in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 21.

By Kyle Shaner

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Reach the writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.