UPDATE: City Council to Address Move to Even-Year Elections (SB 415) at Jan. 23 Meeting: Part 2

Want to weigh in? Send comments to sb415@redwoodcity.org

As mentioned in Part 1 last week of the two-part blog series, the City Council will continue discussions around options to comply with SB 415 — the California Voter Participation Rights Act — at the Jan. 23 Council meeting. SB 415 is a State law that aims to improve voter turnouts by combining local elections with statewide elections.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, staff will report their findings so that Council can discuss two primary options to complying with the law:

  • Consolidate the 2017 election with the 2018 statewide election, which would require extending current Council members’ terms by 12 months; or
  • Hold elections in 2017 and 2019, with five-year terms for incoming Council members.

A complete staff report will be available late in the day on Jan. 19 on the City Council Meetings, Agendas and Minutes webpage, and interested community members are encouraged to read the entire report when it is available. The report will include information about projected election costs associated with each option, and how other public agencies are moving to even-year elections. Brief background information is provided here:

Election Costs

Election costs are directly related to the number of registered voters within a jurisdiction and the number of local agencies participating in an election, as each agency shares in the total cost of administering an election.

Standalone Elections

If the City holds standalone elections in 2017 and 2019, it would bear all election costs for materials and administration, which is estimated to cost $425,000 per election. A standalone election is a City election that has no overlapping agencies (agencies with shared precincts and voting sites) such as school districts. Election costs include sample ballots, official ballots, mailings, polling places, voting machines, counting software, IT staff and Elections Office staff. If a ballot measure was included with a regular election for Council members, such as a Charter amendment or a bond or tax measure, the cost would be approximately $100,000.

According to the San Mateo County Elections Officer, when holding an all-mail election, there is a 33 percent reduction in election costs. Therefore, if the City held an all-mail ballot standalone election for Council members in 2017, the estimated cost of the election would be $285,000, and the cost of an all-mail ballot measure would run an estimated $67,000. The County Elections Office can authorize an all-mail election only if all jurisdictions who have an election in November 2017 approve having their election being conducted by mail only. A decision has not yet been made on whether the November 2017 election will be by mail only.

Shared Elections

Sharing an election with overlapping jurisdictions with similar precincts and voting sites reduces election costs. According to the San Mateo County Elections Officer, cost sharing with overlapping jurisdictions — with almost all of the same voting precincts as the City — would cost an estimated $250,000 for the 2017 election. For an all-mail election, the cost would be reduced to $167,000.

City staff looked into whether non-overlapping jurisdictions holding elections in 2017 would impact election costs. According to the San Mateo County Elections Officer, partnering with non-overlapping jurisdictions would not provide significant election cost savings; however, there would be a slight savings estimated at $10,000 to $20,000 for cost sharing with IT staff costs, counting software and other administrative costs.

Based on this information, if the City were to hold its election in 2018, it would cost less than what it has spent on average ($74,000) for its past four odd-year elections. This would primarily be due to sharing election costs with the Federal, State, and County governments (which covers 75 percent of all election costs) and at least seven overlapping local jurisdictions that hold even-year elections. Alternatively, if the City holds potential 2017 and 2019 standalone elections, the City would see a significant election cost increase as compared to previous year election costs. The combined estimated cost for 2017 and 2019 elections would be $850,000 for a traditional polls and mail election, and $570,000 for all-mail elections in 2017 and 2019.

Approaches by Other Jurisdictions

The City of Redwood City has 12 overlapping jurisdictions which either share all or a portion of the City’s election precincts. As mentioned, the actions these jurisdictions take to comply with SB 415 will directly affect the City of Redwood City’s election costs. As of the Oct. 17 City Council meeting, other than the City of Redwood City there were three other overlapping jurisdictions still on odd-year election cycles. These were the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, the Sequoia Union High School District, and the West Bay Sanitary District.

The City of Redwood City has 35 election precincts. The Sequoia Union High School District has the same election precincts as the City of Redwood City. The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District shares eight of 35 election precincts with the City, and the West Bay Sanitary District shares one of 35 election precincts with the City. Here’s where these jurisdictions are in the SB 415 compliance process:

  • The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District recently voted to extend their current Board Members’ terms by 12 months and move their elections to 2018 and 2020.
  • The Sequoia Union High School District is considering the process to move to even year elections at their Jan. 18 meeting.
  • The West Bay Sanitary District has yet to take action on SB 415.

To give input on these options, please send an email to this address: sb415@redwoodcity.org.