Soapbox

California counties require cash from state for primary

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to supporters Monday in San Diego. The state is likely to decide the Republican presidential nomination, which could mean the June 7 election will have a high turnout.
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to supporters Monday in San Diego. The state is likely to decide the Republican presidential nomination, which could mean the June 7 election will have a high turnout. The Associated Press

For the first time in decades, it looks like California’s June primary will affect the presidential contests in both major parties. This will mean a larger turnout of existing voters along with many new voters.

While that’s certainly good news, it also creates a much larger workload for county election officials at the same time they must review millions of petition signatures from more than 20 initiatives seeking to qualify for the November ballot.

Running elections is one of the basic civic duties the state entrusts to counties. To ensure successful elections on June 7 and Nov. 8, counties need more money immediately.

That’s why I am gratified that Secretary of State Alex Padilla is asking the governor and the Legislature to allocate $32 million in additional funding so we can fulfill our responsibility to run accessible and efficient elections in every corner of the state.

Fortunately, the state’s revenues continue to be higher than anticipated. Spending some “one-time money” to help ensure smooth elections is a necessary investment.

Besides the short-term need, I also must mention two other serious threats facing California’s 58 counties in administering elections.

First, voting equipment and technology are rapidly aging. It’s time to get serious about bringing election systems into the 21st century. I know that Padilla agrees, and I look forward to working with him, the Legislature and the governor to allocate the long-term funding needed to buy modern equipment that can serve voters for the next decade.

Second, there is already an $87 million backlog owed to counties for state-mandated, election-related services – with no timetable for repayment. Also, counties used to be reimbursed by the state for running special elections to fill legislative or congressional vacancies, but that reimbursement ended several years ago. These single-contest elections can cost a county millions of dollars. Counties need to be reimbursed for the mandated services we’ve already provided, and the state should establish a revenue stream to pay for special elections going forward.

In the short term, however, we have an urgent need for more staffing to make sure the June and November elections go as planned and that the voters’ choices count. We appreciate that Padilla recognizes this critical issue, and hope the Legislature and the governor agree and act quickly.

Matt Cate is executive director of the California State Association of Counties. He can be contacted at mcate@counties.org.

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