Editorial: County shouldn’t be on hook for elections

San Luis Obispo County could be stuck spending as much as $1 million on two special elections to fill Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado’s seat in the state Senate. That’s outrageous.

Because this is a state election, we believe the state of California should pick up the tab. At this point, however, there is no legislation mandating that, and even if there were, county officials doubt the state would pay up any time soon. They point out that the county is still waiting to be reimbursed for the May 2009 special election.

No matter which jurisdiction foots the bill — the state or the five individual counties within the 15th Senate District — it’s ridiculous that taxpayers should pay for two special elections at a total district-wide cost of around $6 million. Not when the June and November elections are just around the corner.

Cost isn’t the only drawback.

Voter turnout, which is historically low for special elections, is likely to be even worse in this case, since voters will be expected to go to the polls four times in the space of six months.

Given the circumstances, we strongly urge the governor to reconsider the timing of the special elections, which he scheduled for June 22 and Aug. 17.

Hold the Senate primary a little later — to allow some breathing room following the June 8 election — and consolidate the runoff race with the Nov. 2 election.

We don’t like the fact that our district would be without a senator for six months, but given the expense and logistical problems inherent in holding back-to-back special elections, that schedule makes sense.

If the governor refuses to budge, the state at least should consider another step that would reduce costs, simplify the process and boost turnout: Give counties the option of conducting the vacancy elections by mail-in balloting only.

Local elections officials estimate that would save $100,000 per election in San Luis Obispo County alone.

Mail-in elections already are allowed under certain circumstances — for example, voting on a vector control district proposed in San Luis Obispo County was by mail-in ballot — though it would take action by the state Legislature to allow it in this case.

We strongly urge our lawmakers to do so.

Politicians in Sacramento created a huge headache for county elections officials with their lousy timing of Maldonado’s appointment. The least they can do is allow counties to streamline the process by giving them the option of vote-by-mail elections.