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Problems could arise with concurrent elections, official says

Posted: May 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.

In a bid to avoid a lawsuit and increase voter involvement, Santa Clarita has agreed to change its city elections to November starting in 2016. But the change could cause additional wrinkles in the voting process, according to a county elections official.

Santa Clarita City Council members recently approved an ordinance to switch the city’s municipal elections from April to November of even-numbered years.

That means city elections would then fall on the same day as larger elections during which voters cast ballots for state and national elections like those for governor or president.

Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes said the ordinance will be sent on to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for review.

But the council’s vote doesn’t mean the lineup of council contenders will necessarily appear on the same ballot as those running for governor or president.

“The city has the ability to change the election dates to November and, every election, has the opportunity to pass a resolution to request consolidation with the county-administered elections,” Montes said. “The county has the opportunity at that point to either accept or deny the consolidation request.”

Due to constraints of the county ballot, consolidation presents a challenge, according to Efrain Escobedo, governmental and legislative affairs manager for the Los Angeles County Office of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

“Because of just the capacity issues that we face when it comes to the ballot, and these being the heavier-load elections, we have to guarantee ballot capacity for statewide, federal and county races,” Escobedo said.

The city is changing its election dates and also examining a system called cumulative voting as the result of a settlement in a lawsuit alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit claimed the city’s at-large elections, in which all voters can cast ballots for each seat up for election in a given year, violated the Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.


Escobedo said portions of the county’s current system are based on decades-old technology and, as a result, cannot accommodate ballots that have too many races on them.

“The ballot itself is still pretty much based on that old technology and that is where the limitation is,” he said.

It was these constraints that were cited by county election officials in 2013 as the reason a host of local agencies could not consolidate their elections with the county elections by switching them from November of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years.

Supervisors split on the item last summer, the 2-2-1 vote on the matter causing the item to fail.

If consolidation is not possible and the city changes election dates anyway, the city and county elections would be administered separately on the same day.

That could lead to some confusing circumstances for both voters and officials, Escobedo said.

Two elections

First off, voters could expect to see double under such a setup, Escobedo said, receiving two sample ballots or vote-by-mail ballots, for instance.

Even if the county and city were to share a polling location on Election Day, voters could have two sets of poll workers to talk to, two lines to potentially stand in and, eventually, two ballots to cast.

“It’s a real challenge both from the administrative side and from the voter side,” he said.

Escobedo said the concern is not just speculative. Such issues have arisen in the city of Long Beach which, due to its charter, has run-off elections in municipal races if no single candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote during its City Council primary.

Run-offs are held in June, the same day as county primary elections.

According to information posted on Long Beach’s election website, “Voters are required to check in at two separate tables, sign separate rosters and under current conditions would vote using two different voting systems.”

Part of the concern, Escobedo said, is that voters might simply not want to go through the process of voting twice, thus potentially harming voter turnout.

“These aren’t just hypothetical,” Escobedo said. “They’re true anecdotal examples we’ve seen with the city of Long Beach that we’re dealing with.”

Cumulative voting

Complicating matters further is Santa Clarita’s exploration of cumulative voting, a method that would allow residents to cast as many votes as there are seats up for election in a given year, including multiple votes for the same candidate.

Escobedo said such a voting method would likely be incompatible with the county’s current election system.
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