City Seeks Change in Election Schedule to Save Money

by Martha Sadler

Spurred by the enormous price tag for its odd-year elections,
the Santa Barbara City Council may end up adjusting its municipal
election calendar to align with the even-year balloting held by the
county, state, and nation. In a special meeting to discuss the
county’s intention to charge the city approximately $600,000 — an
unprecedented amount — for this year’s city council elections,
councilmembers rejected the option put forward by city staff to
conduct its own, less expensive mail-in elections on a permanent

The proposed cost for the 2007 elections is high because Santa
Barbara is the sole remaining city or district within the county to
hold its elections during odd-numbered years. All the rest of the
county’s jurisdictions hold their elections in even years,
including them on the same ballot as county, state, and federal
contests. The city therefore shoulders the entire cost of its
odd-year elections. By contrast, it cost the city only $35,000 to
include Proposition P on the 2006 consolidated ballot. That same
amount would have applied even if three city council seats — rather
than a single proposition — had been on the ballot, said County
Clerk-Recorder Joseph Holland. The city holds odd-year elections
due to a quarter century-old voter initiative, whose supporters at
the time argued that city business got lost among all the other
candidates and issues that are on the ballot during even years.

To avoid paying the price that the county is demanding for the
November 2007 election, city staffers — under the guidance of
Marcelo Lopez, the administrative services director  — are prepared
to conduct the city election themselves. “The only thing we don’t
have is (1) the candidates and (2) the election results,” Lopez
said. “Otherwise, we are ready.” The city could hold the election
for a maximum of $300,000, he said — less if they used all-postal
balloting rather than the traditional election day polling

To present that option, Lopez introduced Margarita Campos, the
city clerk of Burbank — the only city in California that uses all
mail-in balloting. All registered voters in Burbank receive their
ballots by mail; they can then send in their ballots during a
three-week window or drop them off at designated public buildings
if they insist on hand-delivering them. Campos, whose enthusiasm
for the system bordered on evangelical fervor, assured the council
that voter turnout increased throughout Burbank with mail-in
balloting. When PUEBLO executive director Ana Rizo spoke about the
emotional value for new citizens of going to the poll rather than
mailing in the ballot “like another bill,” Campos countered that
she too came from an immigrant family and that voting by mail
became a family activity — though she was quick to add that each
family member voted alone after discussing the ballot together.

Councilmembers showed little enthusiasm for mail-in voting,
saying they would need more proof that voter turnout increased in
all precincts, including working class and immigrant neighborhoods.
In addition, they said it would be confusing to use the mail-in
system for municipal elections and the polls-plus-absentee ballot
system during even years. Indeed, the council was distinctly
disinclined to have the city conduct its own elections at all.
Several councilmembers were adamant that the county clerk should
conduct elections because the people voted to entrust the County
Clerk with that duty. Council ordered staff to prepare a ballot
measure asking voters to approve the switch to even-year elections.
Councilmembers also told staff to proceed with plans for the city
to conduct its own election one time only, in case a mayoral
delegation asking Holland to reduce the cost of conducting this
November’s balloting to $300,000 is unsuccessful.


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