The Modesto City Schools board shouldn’t be misled by some faulty figuring. The board should schedule voting in its new districts only for even-numbered years.
In 2015, Sen. Ben Hueso wrote a bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, requiring local governments to abandon odd-year elections if there’s a 25 percent drop in voter turnout from even-year elections.
His idea – shared by many, including The Bee – was that getting rid of elections most voters are going to ignore is both smart and the right thing to do. It saves money (the November, 2015 election cost Stanislaus taxpayers $460,000), gets us in line with 32 other counties that abandoned off-year elections long ago, is less confusing and gives those elected a stronger mandate.
But Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan informed the Modesto City Schools board in February that her analysis of elections – which included countywide primary elections – showed there was not a 25 percent drop in turnout from even to odd years. Lundrigan’s office parsed the numbers district by district, but we think that misses the point.
If you just count November general elections – as opposed to primaries – the difference in voter turn out is nearly two thirds countywide, well above the threshold.
Even if the law is confusing to read, it’s intent is clear. Lundrigan’s office could have picked up the phone – as we did last March; as reporter Nan Austin did last week – and talked to Hueso, who wrote it. Clearly, Hueso’s intent was to contrast November elections in even- and odd-numbered years – not primaries or specific district elections.
What Lundigran has done is open a loophole. No entity in our county should walk through it.
We’ve heard the arguments that off-year elections allow the voters “who really care” to decide who gets a specific office – like school board or county supervisor. We’ve also heard that down-ballot offices get lost in the furor over presidential and gubernatorial elections.
We’re not buying either argument. In fact, the lower the turnout the easier it is for special interests to influence the results.
Every entity in the county should be getting rid of odd-year elections, not making excuses to keep them.
Setting up elections they know many voters will skip is a sure-fire way to discourage voting. It’s also a good way to get sued.
If MCS keeps odd-year elections, we doubt it will go unnoticed. When the city of Modesto challenged the 2004 law mandating elections by district for city council seats, it ended up costing the city $1.4 million. There is no shortage of organizations willing to sue over such flouting of the state’s voting laws.
There is a nationwide battle going on over elections. Many believe voting should be made easier and more inclusive. Others want to limit voting by requiring state-issued IDs or by purging voters whose names are similar to voters living in other districts. This debate is a small part of that.
We would prefer to see more people voting no matter when elections are conducted. Since that’s not happening, it makes sense to conduct elections when people want to vote. And that’s every two years, not every few months.