Conduct California’s “Budget Fix” Special Election by Mail

The article below is an opinion-editorial piece written by Warren Slocum, as submitted to the Sacramento Bee.

As the budget impasse now reaches the 100 day mark, the word is that California will have a special election in May or June. While the exact date of that “budget fix” election is not known at this time, there is one thing we know for certain. If that election is conducted by mail it would save taxpayers big bucks.

No matter what ends up on the ballot, the election will carry a healthy price tag for county governments. And it comes exactly at a time when they can least afford it. While the state has said they will repay counties for the costs of the special election, Registrars of Voters are not holding their collective breath. Who knows when “the check will be in the mail?”

In the meantime, the general funds of local government will pick up the tab. And they have already begun to do so – 40% of San Mateo County’s budget covers the cost of administering state mandated programs. This is not an uncommon statistic statewide.

To reduce the financial burden on the counties and the state, California could take a common sense step forward and conduct this upcoming special election all by mail. Or lawmakers could allow counties that want to conduct the election by mail the legal authority to do so. It would save the County of San Mateo about $300,000; more importantly, it would save the state something in the neighborhood of $10,000,000. And it has political support—not just from registrars, but from CSAC, the California State Association of Counties, who took this position in January when they saw the budget impasse and the specter of another special election looming. And in past years, the California League of Women Voters and the California Letter Carriers Union have been among those organizations that supported legislation to allow statewide (at a county’s discretion) to ability to conduct vote by mail elections.

Another side benefit that nobody’s talking about is that it would possibly increase voter turnout. Nearly half the voters already vote by mail in regular elections – depending on the county. Voters have signed up to vote by mail voluntarily—it’s the most substantial change in voting behavior in the past 25 years. Ask any pollster. Consider the vote by mail statistics of these densely populated counties in northern California for the last election: Santa Clara County-71%, Sonoma County-65%, Contra Costa County-51%, Marin County-62%; Alameda County-47%, San Mateo County-49%. Statewide for the November 4, 2008 Presidential General Election, 42.61% of the voters opted to vote by mail (and their turnout reached 78%).

Those counties opting to conduct the upcoming special election by mail could open some number of regional voting centers for a week in advance of the election. This would ensure that voters from the disability community could come to the polls and cast a private and independent vote and those voters who absolutely want to cast their ballot in person would be accommodated as well.

Doug Chapin, publisher of Electionline.org and associate of the PEW Charitable Trust has said, “They (the voters) can sit down with a voter guide…and make their decisions deliberately.” Voting by mail is a safe option and doesn’t affect the integrity of the election nor does it violate any security requirements. Voters find it convenient and hassle-free. It meets their lifestyle needs. There have been no reports of vote by mail fraud. And every registrar in the state already successfully manages a vote by mail program.

An opinion piece in The San Jose Mercury News said in part, “More elections should be held by mail. The experiences of Oregon…and Monterey County have shown that voting by mail sharply increases voter participation…and removes barriers keeping voters from the polls. It also is less expensive…”

Imagine it – a statewide election conducted all by mail. Oregon has done it successfully for years. 38 of 39 counties in Washington have switched to mail elections.

Why shouldn’t California take a proven, common sense approach, save big bucks and give it a try?

You can share your thoughts with me at wslocum@smcare.org. And if you agree, please call or send an email to your Assembly Member and State Senator urging them to allow counties the option to conduct the “budget fix” special election by mail.

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One response to “Conduct California’s “Budget Fix” Special Election by Mail

  1. I have an idea that would save even more money: Don’t hold a special election!

    The prospect of a budget “bailout” courtesy of higher taxes only encourages intransigent big spenders to refuse to write a budget based on today’s revenue.

    Cheaper elections would only exacerbate the problem, in the same way that convenience foods encourage overeating.

    Recently we’ve seen Pacifica, Millbrae, and San Carlos submit duplicate ballot measures to the voters within months of rejection by voters. Clearly elections are too cheap and easy to call as things stand today.

    Cheaper elections wouldn’t save any money in the long run. Cheapness would merely mean that elections would be called more frequently and for more frivolous reasons. Is that really what the ROV wants? I don’t think so.

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