January 14, 2009

Resizing California's Precincts is Good Business

VOTERS WHO opt to vote permanently vote by mail represent around 40 percent of the registered voters in San Mateo County. People like the convenience of being a permanent vote by mail voter because election materials are automatically sent to them in advance of each election and they can vote their ballot when they want - there is no rush.

A majority of the votes cast are cast by those who vote by mail. At the same time, current law limits the number of registered voters in a precinct to 1,000. In a 50 percent turnout election where 50 percent of the vote is done by mail, a precinct serves a maximum of 250 voters on Election Day - not the 1,000 voters it was originally designed to serve.

This situation forces duplicative cost, waste and poll worker boredom which makes retention a problem and recruiting for subsequent election service an ongoing challenge. It's an unintended consequence of the popularity of voting by mail.

This trend is consistent throughout California with the possible lone exception of Los Angles County.


Resizing California's precincts saves taxpayers dollars, is good for precinct workers and preserves election integrity


Last year Senator Joe Simitian introduced legislation (Senate Bill 967) that would have allowed election officials to reduce the number of required voting precincts by subtracting out the number of permanent vote by mail voters and resizing the precinct boundaries while keeping the total number of in person voters in a precinct at 1,000.

Permitting this change would reduce the number of poll workers required to conduct an election and it would keep the day interesting for them. The change in law would obviously save the dollars and effort necessary to recruit, train and place poll workers and secure, deploy and retrieve the supplies and equipment necessary to conduct an election at the polls.

Simitian's bill made it through both the Assembly and the Senate but was vetoed by Governor Schwartzenegger. His veto message said, "The historic delay in passing the 2008-2009 State Budget has forced me to prioritize the bills sent to my desk at the end of the year's legislative session. Given the delay, I am only signing bills that are the highest priority for California. This bill does not meet that standard and I cannot sign it at this time."

Crazy right?

Well, this year Simitian plans to introduce the bill again.

We support this legislation. It would save taxpayers approximately $180,000 per election in San Mateo County alone (depends on the number of elections in a year). The county could reduce the number of precincts by 70-100 or so and this would have saved residents approximately $750,000 or more in 2008.

Statewide the savings are tremendous. And the good news is this legislation in no way adversely affects voters.

The bottom line is that changing state law to allow for subtracting out permanent vote by mail voters from precincts is good for voters, good for poll workers and a win for election officials. It doesn't in anyway affect the integrity of an election and it maintains California high degree of election security. There are no downsides.

Simitian's idea on precinct resizing is right for California.

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