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Bills seek to address special elections

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Just as newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown announced his intention to hold another special election in spring, new legislation is being introduced to address some of the fiscal concerns of a ballot-weary electorate.

Last summer’s two special elections to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Abel Maldonado cost San Luis Obispo County approximately $750,000, according to County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.

But former Republican assemblyman, now-Sen. Sam Blakeslee is looking to fulfill a campaign pledge and recover costs to county governments incurred from the recent elections that brought him to office.

Senate Bill 106, introduced by Blakeslee on Jan. 12, seeks to reimburse counties for costs incurred from special elections held from January 2009 to April 2011.

In a written statement he noted the state required 26 counties to hold 23 special elections in the past two years, costing taxpayers more than $17 million, according to information from the California State Association of Counties.

“The state should be paying its bills for the costs imposed on our counties,” Blakeslee said in the release.

According to Erin Shaw, spokeswoman for Blakeslee, the bill will be discussed at the state senate’s first policy hearing in February.

California law used to require the state to reimburse counties for holding special elections until the law was repealed in January 2008.

SB 106 was introduced as the state learned of Brown’s plans to hold a special election in March, seeking voter approval for an extension of billions of dollars in taxes. The governor’s office said those extensions would provide an estimated $9 billion in the 2011-12 budget year.

State voters rejected a three-year extension plan of those taxes in the May 2009 special election called by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown is hoping voters now will reconsider, promising to use the money to fund a major decentralization of state government power, shifting some state services to cities and counties.

Rodewald said the Brown special election, if approved, could cost the county roughly $400,000. She said in the past, the county has tried to minimize costs of special elections by consolidating voter precincts, thereby reducing poll workers’ salary and delivery expenses.

The proposed 2011 special election also holds importance to voters in the 4th Assembly District, who will also address the seat left vacant when former Republican Assemblyman Ted Gaines was elected to
the Senate.

On Jan. 18, to relieve the upcoming election, Gaines also introduced a bill, SB 109. It aims to give counties with populations of less than 400,000 the option to hold special elections exclusively by mail, eliminating a state mandate that local governments open and hire staff for public polling places.

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