SLY: When district elections chop up the secret ballot

09/14/2013 12:00 AM

09/13/2013 9:15 PM

There are several persuasive arguments for electing school board, city council and special district members by district. Among them: It’s less expensive for candidates to campaign, therefore allowing more citizens to compete fairly, and it should assure better representation for all neighborhoods.

There are also some reasonable concerns about district elections, too, such as the possibility of so few capable candidates that voters don’t get much of a choice.

School boards have shifted to district elections not because a healthy debate showed they’re the right way to go but because they’re being threatened with a lawsuit if they don’t change. In other words, district elections are being swallowed like a bitter pill.

Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters Lee Lundrigan has identified an unintended cumulative side effect from these pills: A a patchwork of small and even miniscule precincts.

As it prepares for the Nov. 5 election, Lundrigan’s office has ordered 57 different ballot types and, here’s the corker, has found that 10 precincts have two or fewer voters. There are five precincts with zero voters, but ballots have to be prepared in case a citizen in those small areas registers and becomes an eligible voter. Obviously it costs money to prepare different ballots and it’s a waste if they have to be just tossed away unused.

Another unintended consequence, Lundrigan told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday: When a precinct only has one or two voters, it throws the concept of the secret ballot out the window. That’s because the complete statement of votes sent to the Secretary of State’s Office after each election contains results by precinct. For a precinct with one or two voters, people could figure out how that person or those individuals voted. Very few people look at the complete statement, but it is a public document.

An example provided by Lundrigan: Precinct No. 917049 in south Modesto has one voter at the moment and his or her ballot will include the contests for Stanislaus County Board of Education District 5, Modesto City Council District 2 and Turlock Irrigation District Division 3.

Lundrigan said there’s no cure for this side effect, although she hopes that other agencies that adopt district elections will try to align their district lines with those of other entities.

The company you keep

In politics, as in high school, people are judged by what they say, what they tweet and by the company they keep – including who they pose with for pictures.

Last week the office of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, sent out a photo of the congressman posing with Donald and Ivanka Trump at the unveiling of the design for the Trump International Hotel, which is being built in the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C.

Denham’s press release promoted this because of Denham’s efforts to get the federal government to dump vacant and unused government-owned property. According to Denham’s office, the old post office has been losing more than $6 million a year. So from his perspective, and that of his supporters, Denham is simply trumpeting – no, I couldn’t resist – an apparent success story.

And I quote from Denham’s press release: “This is one of the projects that has been important to me in my efforts to generate economic growth and streamline federal processes, and as the chairman of the Economic Development subcommittee last Congress, I worked closely with the GSA on this project.”

My first thoughts when seeinng this photo were: 1. Donald’s hair doesn’t look that bad and 2. Do people in Modesto and the rest of the 10th Congressional District care that Denham got to hang out with the rich and flamboyant Trump and his daughter?

But wait, there’s another way to look at this photo. Later in the week, my email contained a press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with a very different perspective. Its headline: “What Did New York City-Loving Congressman Jeff Denham Discuss With Donald Trump?”

The DCCC suggested what Denham and Trump might have talked about: opposition to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill; mutual support for tax breaks for millionaires or Trump’s unfortunate view as a “birther.” Of course the Democrats are stretching and twisting reality. That’s how it works in high school, I mean politics.

I suspect we’ll see this photo next year in ads for the 10th Congressional race.

Labor clash reaches TID races

Water issues are dominating the early debate for the three seats on the Modesto Irrigation District board, but the undercurrent in the two races for Turlock Irrigation District board is that old standby – labor vs. management.

Incumbents Ron Macedo and Joe Alamo are being challenged, respectively, by Darrel Monroe, a former TID employee, and Daniel Agundez, who is retired from Pacific Gas & Electric. The contract between the TID and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 expired in 2011. You might remember last October when all of the TID linemen were suspiciously unable to respond to power outages one weekend, leaving customers stranded without water and power.

The TID contest is off to an ugly start with some vandalism in recent weeks. In at least four locations, someone painted the pavement with words like this: “TID board sells local jobs.” It refers to the TID retaining a private firm to provide backup support when linemen aren’t, well, available.

Every election, candidate signs disappear, but spray painting the roadway is just plain vandalism. I hope it’s not a sign these TID races will get nasty.

Money in the bank for sheriff candidates

As we’ve reported before, Sheriff Adam Christianson already has two possible challengers in 2014, both of them from within his department. When it comes to money, Christianson is way ahead.

Announced candidates had to file money reports by July 31 for money they collected in the first half of 2013 and earlier. Friends to Re-Elect Sheriff Adam Christianson reported collecting almost $29,000 from January through June and spending $11,750, most of it in donations to local organizations. The committee has $22,600 on hand as of June 30.

The Tom Letras for Sheriff committee reported receiving $1,000, half of that from Letras himself. Tori Hughes’ committee reported only $534 in contributions, all of that from the campaign account of Kathy Salvatore, who ran for Riverbank council in 2012.

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