A proposal from San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts is calling for mail balloting on some elections. Courtesy photo
A proposal from San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts is calling for mail balloting on some elections. Courtesy photo

Plan could save cities money on elections

COAST CITIES — A proposal by county Supervisor Dave Roberts that could save some cities perhaps $100,000 on special elections won’t currently benefit his hometown of Solana Beach, which will pay about $200,000 for a February vote on rules to govern Fletcher Cove Community Center. 

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at its Dec. 3 meeting to ask state lawmakers to allow mail ballots only for certain elections in general law cities.

“Two of the five communities in my district — Encinitas and Solana Beach — each had issues where I felt they didn’t have the options they should have to make a decision,” Roberts said. “What I want to do is give them an option.”

The county’s 2014 legislative program, which provides policy direction for San Diego’s advocacy efforts in Sacramento, already included a recommendation to allow mail-ballot special elections in general law cities for California Senate and Assembly seats, something currently precluded by state law.

The suggestion came in response to a recent special election to fill a seat vacated when former state Sen. Juan Vargas was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In one precinct, only one voter showed up at a polling station that was open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“It just begs the fact that there needs to be some changes in state laws,” Chairman Greg Cox said. “It is counterintuitive to think there’s a need to have the pre-established voting locations and all the tremendous costs that go with that.

“Under state law we have to have one precinct for no more than every 1,000 voters even though the vast majority of people now are voting by absentee ballots,” Cox added. “And to have the requirement to still maintain that same standard is absolutely ludicrous.”

Roberts said he spent a couple of hours going through the legislative program. It prompted him to recall an Encinitas special election in June for Proposition A.

That measure, which passed, requires voter approval for major amendments to city planning policies and imposes a citywide height limit.

In that election, which cost the city approximately $300,000, only 3,330 of the 12,888 ballots were cast at a polling station. The rest, or about 75 percent, were cast by mail as absentee ballots, according to the county Registrar of Voters.

In Solana Beach, a citizens initiative known as Proposition B will be presented to voters Feb. 11 to determine a use policy for the renovated Fletcher Cove Community Center on Pacific Avenue.

Because Solana Beach, like Encinitas, is a general law city, a mail-only election is not allowed, and Roberts’ proposal comes too late at this point to be an option.

“The state would have to change the law, and that would take time even if there is a will to modify the state election law,” City Manager David Ott said.

Roberts said Geoff Patnoe, director of the county’s Office of Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs, plans to meet with state Sen. Marty Block and Rep. Toni Atkins to discuss introduction of a possible new law when both legislative bodies reconvene next month.

Roberts said his proposal would be optional for cities. It will also be presented as a trial basis in San Diego only.

“It’s not meant to be a statewide fix,” he said.

Roberts said he doesn’t know why mail-only elections are allowed in charter cities and not general law ones.

“I think it’s just one of those things that never caught up,” he said. “There’s been hesitancy in Sacramento to change voting laws because some people believe it favors one political party over another.”

General law cities are bound by all state laws, while jurisdictions that have opted to become charter cities have complete authority over all municipal affairs, including election codes.

“The whole idea is to save money and give governing bodies more options,” Roberts said. “And any time we can save taxpayer money, it’s a good thing.”

He said he hopes to have something on the issue come out of Sacramento in the next 12 months.