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NYS Comptroller


Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

State Board of Elections
Localities’ Procurements of Paper Ballots

Issued: March 30, 2015
Link to full audit report 2013-S-36
Link to 90-day response

To determine whether the State Board of Elections provided Local Election Boards with sufficient guidance to ensure that paper ballots were properly procured and the costs for unused ballots were minimized. The audit covered the period January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012.

In New York State, each of the 57 counties outside of New York City has a County Board of Elections (County Board) responsible for administering all Federal, State, and local government elections within their respective geographic areas. Elections within the five counties in New York City are jointly administered by the New York City Board of Elections. For purposes of this report we classify the New York City Board and the County Boards as the “Local Election Boards.” The New York State Board of Elections (State Board) is a bipartisan agency responsible for administering and enforcing all laws relating to elections in the State and providing oversight to the Local Election Boards. During the fiscal year ended March 31, 2013, the State Board was appropriated a total of $5.3 million for operations. In calendar year 2010, Local Election Boards switched to optical scanning voting machines (which use paper ballots) from traditional lever-operated machines. State Election Law requires Local Election Boards to procure an adequate number of paper ballots for each election district within their respective jurisdictions.

Key Findings

We determined that the State Board has not provided sufficient guidance to Local Election Boards on procuring paper ballots. As a result, the ballot procurement processes used by the 13 Local Election Boards we visited resulted in significant unnecessary costs. Several Local Election Boards consistently overestimated the number of ballots needed for each election. In fact, about 14.3 million (62.3 percent) of the nearly 23 million ballots acquired by the 13 Local Election Boards went unused. We estimate that the Local Election Boards we visited could have saved, in the aggregate, about $10 million during the audit period by competitively procuring ballots and by using sound historical data to project the numbers of ballots needed.

Key Recommendations

  • Work with the Local Election Boards that do not print their ballots in-house to help ensure that paper ballots are procured through vendor competition.
  • Work with Local Election Boards to develop a sound and reasonable methodology to project the number of ballots needed for each election. Use accurate historical data of voter turn-out and the number of ballots procured to develop estimates of ballot needs.
  • Periodically meet or communicate with Local Election Board officials to discuss emerging administrative and fiscal issues and to resolve their questions and concerns.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

New York City Board of Elections: Voting-Related Problems September 2010 Primary Election (2010-N-6)
County Boards of Elections: Voting-Related Problems September 2010 Primary Elections (2010-MR-5)

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Frank Patone
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236