Palm Coast City Clerk Virginia Smith was closer to the mark when she estimated the cost of Palm Coast’s special election for mayor, and County Commissioner Dave Sullivan’s fears–and criticisms–were somewhat exaggerated. But it wasn’t a cheap election either way.
When the City Council set the July 27 special election in May, Smith told the council that the election would cost “probably upwards of $100,000.” The actual cost to the city–and to taxpayers: $127,983.15, according to documents provided by Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart.
In early June, Lenhart sent a cost estimate of $187,764 to the city, or $60,000 more than the actual cost. But that was a high-end estimate, Lenhart cautioned, and it was predicated on a high-turnout election mirroring last November’s. Neither proved to be the case, though Sullivan during a County Commission meeting indirectly chided former Mayor Milissa Holland when he claimed that it was “going to cost the city of Palm Coast $185,000 to run an election that should not have been necessary, and I know that’s a little touchy.”
Holland had resigned in May. The election drew six candidates who qualified. David Alfin won with 36 percent of the vote. But only 19,000 voters cast a ballot, a turnout of 26 percent, compared with the 79 percent turnout of the November election, when nearly 50,000 voters cast valid ballots in the mayoral election. (There were 4,000 undervotes, meaning that no vote was made for that particular ace on those ballots, according to the official tally).
Put another way, the special election cost $6.74 per vote cast.
Lenhart’s original estimate included 40,000 election day ballots, which would have cost $12,400. Only 3,106 voters turned up on Election Day itself. Sample ballot costs were initially estimated at $25,000. The cost was actually $11,800. Other ballot and mail costs were also lower. The bulk of the cost was in poll worker and election office staffing ($62,600), sample ballots ($9,000) and supplies ($46,500). See the detailed invoices here and here. The city had submitted a $25,000 deposit. The election was paid out of the city’s general fund.
Talk of a referendum among City Council members was quickly scuttled when Smith began talking about potential costs. The costs of the special election had not been disclosed. But council members were aware of the cost estimates in May. The referendum possibility arose when at one point three council members favored going that route to best learn where the public stands on allowing commercial vehicles in driveways.
Smith was in her office when the discussion of a referendum began. She immediately rushed to the council chambers to make sure the council didn’t wade back into troubled waters. She told them that a referendum would have to be scheduled at the next general election, in November 2022. (The city charter is slightly unclear on that score. It calls for referendums resulting from citizen initiative to be placed on the general election ballot, but leave silent council-initiated referendums, as this one would be.) Even then, she cautioned, if the addition of a city referendum on the ballot would add so much as one sheet, it would result in significant added costs to the city. And of course no council member was proposing to hold a referendum in a special election, incurring another six-figure bill. Either way, the referendum discussion died.