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SCV school districts may face difficulties changing election dates

Posted: April 13, 2013 5:58 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2013 5:58 p.m.

Voters line up at a polling booth in Castaic in November. Local school districts have recently petitioned to change their election dates to coincide with state and federal ones, but may be unable to do so because of the constraints of the county ballot system.

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Due to 1960s technology, Santa Clarita Valley school districts’ efforts to swap election years in a bid to draw more voters may not be possible, county officials said.

School boards of all six public school districts in the valley voted in February to change their board election dates from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.

The move would put them on the same ballots with state and federal issues, including presidential elections. That would encourage more voters to turn out and cast ballots for local races, board members said during discussions on the issue.

But Efrain Escobedo, manager of governmental affairs for the Los Angeles County Department of Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, said consolidation of local, state and federal races on one ballot may not be possible. The Registrar-Recorder’s office runs even-year balloting throughout the Santa Clarita Valley except for Santa Clarita city elections and town council elections.

The county’s election system, which Escobedo said has fundamentally changed little since the 1960s, cannot accommodate ballots longer than 12 pages, he said. Already an average ballot contains approximately 165 different contests, with about 400 different candidates and close to 50 measures, Escobedo said Friday.

Those races take up about 75 percent to 80 percent of the ballot’s capacity, Escobedo said. The county’s preference, according to Escobedo, is to retain some space on ballots to accommodate late-added measures, races with many candidates or special elections.

“Right now, at this time, we have concerns with the capacity of the voting system,” Escobedo said. “And we have voiced those.”

“We got some input that this could be an issue for them,” said Rob Challinor, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District. “Be that as it may, it will always be an issue, and at some point it has to be addressed.”

Escobedo said the county has considered modernizing its ballot system but the process is ongoing and likely years away from completion.

Challinor and Sharlene Coleal, assistant superintendent and vice president of business services at College of the Canyons, have been involved in the effort to switch election dates for all local schools districts: Castaic Union School District, College of the Canyons, Hart district, Newhall School District, Saugus Union School District and Sulphur Springs School District.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has final say on the matter. The item will likely be on the board’s April 30 agenda, Coleal said.

Voter participation in school board elections is typically far below the levels seen in larger county or national elections. Odd-numbered-year ballots generally contain only local issues such as school board and water board races.

In the November 2011 election, the top vote-getter in an election for the Saugus district governing board received 2,737 votes with a total eligible voter registration of 52,526, according to the Registrar-Recorder’s office.

The story was much the same in the Sulphur Springs district, where the top vote-getter received less than 2,000 votes with 27,814 people registered to vote.

Larger school districts, such as the Hart district, also saw low levels of voter participation. Candidates received between 6,738 and 7,530 votes despite the 128,154 eligible voters in November 2011.

Escobedo said he understands the desire to increase voter participation and said voter turnout does tend to go up during even-numbered years, largely as a result of major contests like races for governor or president.

But he questioned how many pages of materials voters would flip through to vote for down-ballot contests like school board races.

“You would have to turn 10 pages to get to those races, as opposed to them being on the front page,” Escobedo said.

Another consideration is financial, although Challinor said saving money was not the motivation for switching election years.

The cost of running the election would shift from the districts to the county if elections are conducted on even-numbered years, so per-election savings would fall between $25,000 for the Newhall district to more than $100,000 for the Hart district, according to documents from the school districts.

Challinor said district officials remain cautiously optimistic.

“I think the Registrar-Recorder’s letter to the supervisors (regarding ballot restrictions) will carry great weight,” he said.

“Having said that, I do know that the Board of Supervisors is very respectful of local governing boards, and since all six governing boards overwhelmingly passed the resolution to consolidate the elections, there will be some consideration for that.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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