The county’s bill for two recent special elections — $750,000 — is bad enough, yet it could have been even worse. Without cost-cutting measures, the elections could have run as high as $1 million.
For that, we can thank the county elections team led by County Clerk/Recorder Julie Rodewald. By reducing the number of polling places, hiring fewer precinct workers and taking other steps, the elections office managed to keep expenses as low as possible.
Still, $750,000 is a huge cost for a county that struggled with a $17 million shortfall this year.
Newly elected state Sen. Sam Blakeslee has introduced legislation that would reimburse counties for the costs they incurred in the recent state Senate elections. We absolutely support that; counties should not be stuck bailing out the state on this one.
Yet there’s no getting around the fact that taxpayers will still have to foot this outrageous bill, whether it’s paid by the state or the counties.
By holding two special elections — rather than consolidating one with a regularly scheduled election — costs were double what they should have been. For that, both political parties are to blame.
The Democrats could have acted more quickly to confirm Abel Maldonado as lieutenant governor, and that would have made it possible to consolidate the state Senate primary with the June election.
The Republicans — led by the governor — then balked at consolidating the runoff election with the November general election. Democrats accuse Republicans of deliberately sidestepping the November ballot because they knew lighter turnout at a special election would favor them.
It’s too late for a redo, but we hope this at least spurs some cost-cutting reforms.
One idea: Allow all-mail balloting for special elections. Other states already have made the switch to mail-in balloting, and have found that it cuts costs and boosts turnout. Trying it out for California’s special elections could serve as a pilot for more widespread use.
Bottom line: Vacancies on political bodies do occur from time to time, and footing the bill for the occasional special election is one of the prices we pay for living in a democracy.
Yet public officials still have the duty to use common sense and look for the most cost-effective ways to conduct special elections.
In this case, Sacramento politicians failed miserably, allowing political gamesmanship to get in the way of efficiency. We shouldn’t let them get away with it again.