What’s the cost of today’s Republican primary?

The polls are open today for New York state’s Republican presidential primary and this year’s contest is set to be as much of a non-event in this blue state as most years before.

Turnout is expected to be light especially since Rick Santorum dropped out of the race — he officially suspended his campaign but is still on the NY ballot — leaving Mitt Romney the presumed nominee.

Yet New York has gone ahead with rolling out the voting  machines, mobilizing workers and setting up polling sites. Today’s question: How much is today’s Republican primary costing taxpayers?

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What we found

State officials estimate the total tab for today’s GOP primaries to be $20 to 25 million. John Ward, the finance officer for the city’s Board of Elections, calculates the cost to the five boroughs alone is about $12 million, or less than $1.50 per city resident.

That number varies across New York, in part because some counties still use paper ballots. Onondaga County, for instance, is spending $145,000 on today, or more than $3 per resident.

“We’ve eliminated a lot of poll sites over the last few years, almost 50 of them, and are trying to consolidate and better use resources,” said county Republican elections commissioner Helen Kiggins, adding that Onondaga is one of many counties trying to cut polling spending.

New York City Board of Elections spokesperson Valerie Vazquez said the city is looking at some savings this year from combined electoral districts but because of the recent switch from lever machines to newer and more expensive polling hardware, comparing this year’s expenses to that of 2008’s would be “comparing apples to oranges.” 

As to whether these millions in primary expenditures are justified in races already decided, New York County Republican elections commissioner Fred Umane thinks it’s all fair. “Unfortunately,” he said, “democracy costs money.”

He admits that New York has missed out on most of the presidential primary action in recent years. “I would say the last time this state had real influence was back in 1980, when the Republican primary was between Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.” he recalled. “It was pretty tight here.”

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