California needs to think long-term after extra election funding approved

610 200 Ed Coghlan

Polling place in San Francisco (Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes/Flickr)

A rare competitive presidential primary in California and a crowded November ballot has spurred state action on election financing this year.

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed AB 120, which will help counties incur the additional expenses associated with the high turnout expected in the June 7 presidential primary, and to process the approaching deluge of petitions from interest groups seeking to qualify initiatives for the November ballot. $16.2 million will be divided among the state’s 58 counties.

“It absolutely goes a long way to assisting us in juggling this kind of perfect storm: the initiatives colliding at the same time we’re producing ballots and tallying ballots,” said Neal Kelley, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

The last day for any measure to qualify for the November ballot is June 30. The Secretary of State’s office suggested that proponents turn in their petitions last Tuesday to ensure counties had enough time to verify the signatures by the qualification deadline.

But proponents of several measures remain on the streets gathering signatures. Among the measures is the Justice and Rehabilitation Act backed by Brown and his allies.

The money in AB 120, which passed the Legislature last week, creates a financial incentive for counties to get the signature-checking done more quickly–and gives campaigns more time to gather signatures. Counties would be eligible for some of the $16 million only if they verified signatures turned in as late as May 20 before the June 30 qualification deadline.

Kelley, who is also the registrar of voters for Orange County, called the money “a huge help.”

Secretary of State Padilla originally asked Brown for twice the amount. Lawmakers will consider the proposal during budget hearings for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The issue of how to pay for elections has been a source of tension between state officials and county officials, who administer elections. California Forward, thanks to a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, has been the studying the issue and will release its Election Funding Project in late May.

“While these funds will help the counties navigate a busy and expensive political year in 2016, the long-term issue of election funding in California needs to be addressed,” said Jim Mayer, presdient and CEO of CA Fwd. “CA Fwd’s assessment will provide some guidance on how to construct a new state-county funding partnership that provides adequate resources with the right incentives for a collaborative and efficient elections system.”

CA Fwd surveyed the 58 California county election officials, who had some strong opinions about what needs to happen:

  • Nearly all of who responded (96 percent) agree that California should adopt a different funding framework for elections.
  • 88 percent think there should be more collaboration among counties in providing election services and procuring voting equipment.
  • Our voting equipment is aging. 76 percent say they will need to replace their equipment within the next four years…nearly half of those needing replacement in the next year or two.
  • 81 percent want to explore alternative funding methods for elections.

CA Fwd also convened county registrars, surveyed the funding models in other states, and consulted with state advocates and staff in developing its assessment.


Ed Coghlan

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