By Miriam Raftery
August 18, 2015 (San Diego)--State Senator Ben Hueso, a Democrat from the San Diego region, announced this week that Senate Bill 415, a measure that will dramatically increase voter turnout in local elections, passed the State Senate on a 26-12 vote and is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature. Local governments with voter turnout 25% less than the average turnout in that city will be required to consolidate their elections with state elections.
Senator Hueso states, “We must protect our voices as voters and celebrate our most sacred right as Americans. Voter participation in any election gives us the opportunity to challenge the issues at stake and redefines our commitment to our state of California.” He adds, “This bill sends a clear message that elected officials support the effort to increase voter turnout and respect a democratic process.”
The bill was introduced after some cities in California held elections with single digits, including a Los Angeles election with just 8% voter turnout.
Studies have consistently shown that elections that are not consolidated with statewide and federal elections have significantly lower voter turnout. A 2001 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that, on average, voter turnout in off cycle municipal elections was 25 to 36% lower than elections held during statewide races. In fact, the institute estimated that California could have drawn 1.7 million more voters in municipal elections, roughly a 31% increase in total voter participation.
SB 415 applies to local governments with elections that had a 25% decrease in voter turnout in the last four statewide races. It requires local governments to consolidate the elections starting 2022.
The measure passed by a 41 to 28 vote in the State Senate, with opposition primarily from Republicans.
Opponents contend that cities and counties should be free to set their own election dates. The Los Angeles Daily News, which endorsed the bill as good for democracy by boosting turnout, but did cite potential concerns that candidates in down-ticket races could be overshadowed by those in more prominent races and that the cost of political advertising during a major election season could be prohibitive for some local candidates.
Governor Jerry Brown has twelve days upon the date of transmittal, which was on August 18th, to sign or veto the bill.