It turns out it would also be a windfall for Diebold, Utah's electronic voting machine provider. For every unscheduled statewide election, the state owes Diebold $1.1 million.
"That is sickening," said West Jordan Sen. Chris Buttars, who like most legislators had not heard of the extra payment before signing off on a redistricting plan during a special legislative session Monday.
Lawmakers created four congressional districts as part of a deal that would give Utah and Washington, D.C., each a new U.S. House representative. Congress still must consider the bill, which could happen as early as this week.
Buttars, though, said he wouldn't have pulled his support for the redistricting plan if he knew about the additional cost. He called a fourth House seat "invaluable."
Political leaders envision a 2007 special election and a special primary, if necessary. The total cost would have been $4 million, but the Lieutenant Governor's Office never negotiated with Diebold for technical support in the case of a special election. The bottom line now is more than $6 million for both.
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert struck a $24 million deal with Diebold in the fall of 2005. A special election clause was not part of the original proposal.
"And in all candor, we didn't think to add it in once we got here," said election specialist Michael Cragun, who works for Herbert.
The Lieutenant Governor's Office asked Diebold for a special-election bid in September. Diebold said it would cost $1.1 million for training, database programming and hundreds of technicians.
The original contract includes $5.5 million in technical support for the primary and general elections this year and in 2008, paid for by federal funds. After that, county clerks could negotiate their own support contracts or go without.
The state, or possibly the county clerks, will have to cover any costs of a special election. That also would include a Western states presidential primary, which has been a pet project of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. The presidential primary is slated for February 2008.
Without the Diebold surcharge, a standard statewide election costs more than $2 million. The surcharge puts the cost above $3 million.
Chris Bleak, chief of staff for House Speaker Greg Curtis, said he was surprised to hear that number.
"That is higher than any other figure I have heard before," he said.
Bleak expressed his concern to Cragun and said lawmakers need to know more about the deal "just to understand it."
Herbert's office has its own reservations.
"Nobody likes the fact that an election is going to cost that much money," said Joe Demma, Herbert's chief of staff.
But Demma doesn't think the state has much of an option.
The touch-screen voting machines are so new that election officials need technical assistance in case of a problem. And the contract with Diebold leaves them few options to go elsewhere.
It has not formally accepted Diebold's latest bid, but the state has little negotiating power.
"It is unlikely and probably unwise for us to say we are not going to take this bid," Cragun said.