The Center for Responsive Politics (“CRP”), OpenSecrets.Org published an article Tuesday detailing the jaw-dropping amount of money that has been invested already, and what is likely to be spent on this midterm election campaign cycle. CRP is projecting that almost $4B will be expended on this election cycle.
Yes, that’s a “B” for “Billion.”
CRP prepared the chart shown here to provide the reader with a view of the total cost of elections dating back to 1998. Many find those amounts astonishing, and several besides OpenSecrets.Org are making Herculean efforts to try to change this following the 2010 US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case (United v. FEC). That decision struck down the longstanding ban on corporate expenditures in federal elections, a move that reversed the Court's position on how corporate money enters the political system. And the results have been equally jaw dropping.
During the 2012 election cycle, super PACs (tax-exempt nonprofit organizations) and businesses spent more than $1 billion alone. This amounts to three times the spending as in either the 2008 or the 2010 election in total. To put a fine point on it, in 2012, 100 of the wealthiest people in America gave $339,490,176 to super PACs, or an average contribution of $3.4 million per donor, according to CRP.
While the challenges, problems, and even opportunity to rethink campaign financing are very important aspects of our democracy and its integrity and stability, the issues are not easily resolved. And I do not anticipate the Citizens United decision being over-turned anytime soon.
But even if a willing Congress somehow enacted campaign finance reform or even if other initiatives  to reinvent how America finances campaigns are successful, there remains a very important connection with campaign finance and the importance of the TrustTheVote Project work and its successful completion.
You see, while literally billions of dollars are being spent (and will continue to be spent) on election campaigns, as best we can tell, only 2% of all the money being spent on campaigns is the average amount being invested nationwide annually to maintain America’s voting systems. And yet, those systems produce the ballots on which candidates and contests are decided – that is, the outcome of all that elections spending.
In a sentence,
Ballots are the return on investment in campaign funding.
ROI, or “return on investment” is a term that is regularly used to assess the value (or performance) of an investment. The “return” is, or should be, an increase in value of the thing for which the investment was made. A couple of examples are in order. For instance, if a business decides to invest in a new web site, capable of selling its products on line instead of just in its retail store, the “ROI” on that investment in the web site could be determined as a measure of how much increase in sales can be realized. Similarly, when a company decides to acquire a new piece of machinery for its manufacturing, an “ROI analysis” is conducted by finance to forecast several outcomes of the investment decision – one being how long it will take to “pay back” the price of that machine, while another, will likely be about the impact of that machine on its business.
An important point about ROI is that it is a commonly used term today in a wide range of settings. ROI can be modified to suit the situation. This all depends on what you determine are the "costs" and "returns." Regardless, "returns" can be likened to "impact of outcomes." Are you with me so far? Of course you are. And so you see where I am going.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what is the expected outcome of all the money going into election campaigns? “Of course,” you say, “That’s easy: the expected outcomes are my candidate is elected or my initiative or proposition or contest is decided in my favor.” OK.
Following this reasoning, a campaign's success depends on generating ballots in its favor. So, if a bunch of money is put into a campaign it is done with the expectation that this money spent will produce a campaign that successfully engages voters to go to the polls in sufficient volume to vote yes or no, or for your candidate.
But what if the system on which the ballots are cast and counted to provide you with those “wins” is called into question or simply fails? Even more money will have to be expended getting to a (hopefully) favorable result.
In fact, without the ballots necessary to win an election, the "return on investment" in that election campaign is arguably a loss. So, I offer another related concept:
If ballots are the ROI in campaign financing, then a proportional investment in voting systems integrity is the insurance that there will be verifiable and accurate ballots to count.
And to continue this theme of finance, here is the “bottom line:”
It makes no sense to spend billions on campaigns and not invest a tiny percentage of that into ensuring America’s critical democracy infrastructure provides for elections that are verifiable, accurate, more secure, and transparent.
Am I making a case for the funding of the TrustTheVote Project? Of course I am. But I am also making a case for properly funding our voting systems infrastructure nationwide.
The reality is that the investment necessary to ensure trustworthy ballots to support all that campaign spending is microscopic in comparison.
To that, I offer one final financial fun fact for today. Our best estimates suggest that to fully fund the balance of work underway to develop our open source elections technology framework, and make it available for nationwide free adoption will require about $36M in total (over about a 4-year window required to finish) That’s six tenths of 1 percent (.006) of what experts project will be spent for the 2016 election cycle.
To be sure, 6/10ths of 1% of all the money to be spent in funding 2016 campaigns is all that is required to produce a 21st century innovative, freely available, verifiable, accurate, more secure, and transparent elections administration and voting system framework …available for every jurisdiction in the nation for tailoring to fit their local requirements and regulations. And this means a system, from which high integrity ballots – the ROI of that $6B to be spent – can be ensured.
It seems like simply responsible investing that for every $1 invested in a political campaign, about 1/6th of a penny should be given to causes and efforts to improve America's voting systems technology. And its a good investment for everyone, whether you want to improve verification of voters and ballots, or improve accessibility, ease, and convenience. The objective should be ensuring authentic, accurate, verifiable and trustworthy ballots -- enough sufficient to provide the ROI for campaign financing.
Just .006 of the total amount to be expended on the 2016 election cycle can do just that. Ballots are the ROI of campaign financing, so that sounds like a no-brainer investment to me. What about you?
 One example of such an initiative is the effort to develop new apps and services leveraging the Internet and social media to empower millions of citizens to make small contributions online.