In all but a handful of jurisdictions, counties are responsible for conducting elections, including those involving candidates and ballot measures for cities and other special districts. These elections must be conducted under state and federal guidelines. The elections function is managed through the office of the county elections clerk, who is either independently elected, or appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
Various requirements must be met according to strict time deadlines, and conducting elections is a cost borne by a county’s general fund, with limited reimbursements from either the state or federal government. In rural counties, absentee or vote by mail balloting is the preferred method in the elections process.
Since the 2000 General Election, a number of state and local reforms have been made to ensure the integrity of the voting and vote-counting process, and the issue of voting machines and procedures has received much attention. The current lifespan of most county-owned voting machines appears to be ending. This will require counties to acquire new devices, and revise vote counting systems. Altering the vote counting process will be of prime importance for rural counties in the near future, as rural counties will not have the resources to fulfill these new requirements. The 2018-19 State Budget provided monies for counties to purchase updated voting equipment and technology.
Prior to 1996, California’s Presidential Primary Election was held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June. This election date also served as the Direct Primary for a number of other offices (House of Representatives, members of the Legislature, County Supervisors, etc.). In 1993, the Legislature began a series of revisions to the calendar for which the Presidential Primary Election would occur at an earlier date. Citing a number of unintended consequences for altering the dates for the Presidential Primary, the Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 80 (Fong) in 2011, which returned the statewide primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June. This served as the date for both the 2012 and 2016 Primaries. In 2017, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 568 (Lara), which moves the Direct Primary in Presidential and Gubernatorial election cycles to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. RCRC opposed SB 568 as it creates a very long election cycle for those running for county offices. Furthermore, those incumbent county officers who have experienced defeat in the March Primary would have nearly a year in office where they would serve as a lame duck.
Vote By Mail
With the enactment of Senate Bill 450 (Allen) in 2016, counties are undergoing dramatic changes in the way elections are administered. SB 450 authorized counties to conduct elections as an all-mailed ballot election. SB 450 allows specified counties on or after January 1, 2018 to conduct any election as an all-mailed ballot election at the discretion of the Board of Supervisors, if certain conditions are satisfied. In 2020, all other counties could utilize this option, with the exception of Los Angeles County. The measure requires counties to provide ballot drop-off locations, vote centers, and other conditions to ensure the disabled and others can easily vote.
RCRC believes counties should be afforded the option to consider conducting elections in a different manner from how they are being conducted today. We believe SB 450 contains a number of safeguards to ensure no voter is disenfranchised the integrity of the system is preserved.
Staff: Paul A. Smith