BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    ”



                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  1





          Date of Hearing:  July 1, 2015 


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                           Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chair


          SB  
          415 (Hueso) - As Amended June 23, 2015


          SENATE VOTE:  24-13


          SUBJECT:  Voter participation.


          SUMMARY:  Prohibits a local government, beginning January 1,  
          2018, from holding an election on any date other than a  
          statewide election date if doing so in the past has resulted in  
          turnout that is at least 25 percent below the average turnout in  
          that jurisdiction in the last four statewide general elections,  
          as specified.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Defines the following terms, for the purposes of this bill:


             a)   "Political subdivision" to mean a geographic area of  
               representation created for the provision of government  
               services, including, but not limited to, a city, school  
               district, community college district, or other district  
               organized pursuant to state law;











                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  2





             b)   "Significant decrease in voter turnout" to mean the  
               voter turnout for a regularly scheduled election in a  
               political subdivision is at least 25 percent less than the  
               average voter turnout within that political subdivision for  
               the previous four statewide general elections;


             c)   "Voter turnout" to mean the percentage of voters who are  
               eligible to cast ballots within a given political  
               subdivision who voted.


          2)Prohibits a political subdivision from holding an election  
            other than on a statewide election date if holding an election  
            on a nonconcurrent date has previously resulted in a  
            significant decrease in voter turnout. Permits a voter who  
            resides in a political subdivision where a violation of this  
            requirement is alleged to file an action in the superior court  
            in the county in which the political subdivision is located.


          3)Permits a political subdivision to continue to hold elections  
            on dates other than statewide election dates after January 1,  
            2018, notwithstanding the provisions of this bill, if the  
            political subdivision adopts a plan not later than January 1,  
            2018 to consolidate future elections with the statewide  
            election not later than the November 8, 2022 statewide  
            election.


          4)Requires a court, upon finding a violation of the provisions  
            of this bill, to implement appropriate remedies, including the  
            imposition of concurrent election dates for future elections  
            and the upgrade of voting equipment or systems to do so.   
            Permits a court to require a county board of supervisors to  
            approve the consolidation of elections, as specified, when  
            imposing remedies.









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  3







          5)Permits a prevailing plaintiff party in an action brought  
            pursuant to this bill, other than the state or a political  
            subdivision of the state, to recover reasonable attorney's  
            fees and litigation expenses, including, but not limited to,  
            expert witness fees and expenses as part of the costs, as  
            specified.  Prohibits a prevailing defendant party from  
            recovering any costs unless the court finds the action to be  
            frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

          6)Provides that the provisions of this bill do not apply to  
            special elections.


          7)Provides that this bill shall become operative on January 1,  
            2018.


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)Provides that the following dates are "established election  
            dates":

             a)   The second Tuesday of April in each even-numbered year;

             b)   The first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of  
               each odd-numbered year;

             c)   The first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in each  
               year; and,

             d)   The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in  
               each year.

          2)Requires all state, county, municipal, district, and school  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  4





            district elections to be held on an established election date,  
            except as specified.  Provides that the following types of  
            elections, among others, are not required to be held on an  
            established election date:

             a)   Any special election called by the Governor;

             b)   Elections held in chartered cities or chartered counties  
               in which the charter provisions are inconsistent with state  
               election laws;

             c)   School governing board elections conducted pursuant to  
               specified provisions of law;

             d)   Elections required or permitted to be held by a school  
               district located in a charter city or county when the  
               election is consolidated with a regular city or county  
               election held in a jurisdiction that includes 95 percent or  
               more of the school district's population;

             e)   County, municipal, district, and school district  
               initiative, referendum, or recall elections;

             f)   Any election conducted solely by mailed ballot pursuant  
               to specified provisions of law; and,

             g)   Elections held pursuant to specified provisions of law  
               on the question of whether to authorize school bonds. 

          3)Requires a general law city to hold its general municipal  
            election on an established election date or on the second  
            Tuesday in April of each odd-numbered year, except as  
            specified.

          4)Requires a school district, community college district, or  
            county board of education to hold the regular election to  
            select governing board members on the first Tuesday after the  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  5





            first Monday of November in each odd-numbered year, or at the  
            same time as the statewide direct primary election, the  
            statewide general election, or the general municipal election,  
            except as specified.

          5)Requires the general district election held to elect members  
            of the governing board of a special district to be held on the  
            first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each  
            odd-numbered year, unless the principal act of the district  
            provides for the general district election to be held on a  
            different established election date, or on an established  
            mailed ballot election date, as specified.  Permits a special  
            district to adopt a resolution requiring its general district  
            election to be held on the same day as the statewide general  
            election, upon approval of the county board of supervisors, as  
            specified.

          6)Permits a county or a city to provide for its own governance  
            through the adoption of a charter by a majority vote of its  
            electors voting on the question.



          7)Permits a city charter to provide for the conduct of city  
            elections.  Grants plenary authority, subject to limited  
            restrictions, for a city's charter to provide for the manner  
            in which and the method by which municipal officers are  
            elected.



          8)Provides that a legally adopted city charter supersedes all  
            laws inconsistent with that charter with respect to municipal  
            affairs.


           









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  6





          FISCAL EFFECT:  Unknown. This bill is keyed non-fiscal by the  
          Legislative Counsel.


          COMMENTS:  


          1)Purpose of the Bill: According to the author:


               Voter turnout in local elections held on odd-numbered  
               years has been abysmal. On average, less than 30% of  
               registered voters have come out to vote in local  
               odd-year elections. As a result of low voter turnout,  
               the voting population often does not look like the  
               general public as a whole and neither does the city  
               council. While there is no silver bullet, one way to  
               increase voter turnout in local elections is to hold  
               them concurrently with statewide and federal  
               elections, where voter turnout is often twice as high.





               Elections held on the same date can help reduce voter  
               fatigue and make voting more habit forming, while  
               saving local government on administrative costs. For  
               example, the City of San Diego in 2012 spent 42 cents  
               per voter on elections and saw a 70% voter turnout.  
               The City of Los Angeles in 2011 spent $39.35 per voter  
               for a voter turnout of 14.1%. 














                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  7





               This bill will give citizens the right to challenge  
               local government for holding costly elections with  
               little voter turnout.


          2)History of Established Election Dates:  In 1973, the  
            Legislature approved and Governor Reagan signed SB 230  
            (Biddle), Chapter 1146, Statutes of 1973, which created  
            "regular election dates" (which subsequently were renamed  
            "established election dates").  The concept behind having a  
            regular election schedule that governed when most elections  
            would be held was that such a schedule would encourage  
            election consolidations, thereby potentially reducing election  
            costs, and could encourage greater voter participation because  
            voters would become used to voting on these regular election  
            dates.  SB 230 created five established election dates in each  
            two-year cycle-three in even-numbered years (in March, June,  
            and November), and two in odd-numbered years (in March and  
            November).



          One year after established election dates were first created, AB  
            4180 (Keysor), Chapter 1386, Statutes of 1974, added an  
            additional established election date in May of odd-numbered  
            years.  The rationale for adding an established election date  
            was that the eight-month gap between established election  
            dates in March and November of odd-numbered years delayed many  
            special local elections from taking place in a timely manner,  
            including elections to fill vacancies, annexation elections,  
            bond elections, and tax rate elections.  Since that time, the  
            exact dates that are established election dates have  
            fluctuated, often moving to reflect changes in the date of the  
            statewide primary election held in even-numbered years, though  
            generally there have been at least three established election  
            dates in each year.










                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  8





          Having multiple established election dates in each year, but  
            specifying that many types of elections must be held on an  
            established election date, reflects an attempt to balance the  
            desire to hold most elections on a predictable, regular  
            schedule, while still providing the flexibility to ensure that  
            elections can occur in a timely manner when necessary.
          3)On-Cycle vs. Off-Cycle Elections:  Although existing law  
            generally requires that regularly scheduled county elections  
            be held at the same time as statewide elections, other local  
            jurisdictions (e.g., cities, school districts, and special  
            districts) have greater flexibility when deciding when to hold  
            regularly scheduled elections that are held to elect governing  
            board members.  Elections that are held at the same time as  
            statewide elections are often referred to as "on-cycle"  
            elections, while elections held at other times are often  
            referred to as "off-cycle" elections.



          The degree to which local governments hold their elections  
            on-cycle or off-cycle varies significantly throughout the  
            state.  Roughly 30 percent of the counties in California do  
            not have regularly-scheduled off-cycle elections, because all  
            the local jurisdictions in those counties hold their governing  
            board elections at the same time as statewide elections.  In  
            other counties, large numbers of cities, school districts, and  
            special districts hold their governing board elections  
            off-cycle in November of odd-numbered years.  A smaller number  
            of local jurisdictions hold their regularly scheduled  
            governing board elections on other permitted off-cycle dates.

          4)Charter Cities: As noted above, the California Constitution  
            gives cities and counties the ability to adopt charters, which  
            give those jurisdictions greater autonomy over local affairs.  
            Charter cities, in particular, are granted a great deal of  
            autonomy over the rules governing the election of municipal  
            officers.  In fact, the Constitution grants "plenary  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  9





            authority," subject to limited restrictions, for a city  
            charter to provide "the manner in which, the method by which,  
            the times at which, and the terms for which the several  
            municipal officers and employees?shall be elected or  
            appointed."  The Constitution further provides that properly  
            adopted city charters "shall supersede all laws inconsistent"  
            with the charter.



          Notwithstanding the authority granted to charter cities with  
            respect to municipal affairs, California courts have found  
            that a charter city's authority over municipal affairs is not  
            absolute.  In determining whether a state law that affects  
            municipal affairs may be made applicable to charter cities,  
            however, the Supreme Court generally has held that a state law  
            can be made applicable in charter cities only if the state law  
            addresses a matter of statewide concern, is reasonably related  
            to resolving the statewide concern, and is narrowly tailored  
            to avoid unnecessary interference with municipal affairs.   
            State Building and Construction Trades Council of California  
            v. City of Vista (2012) 54 Cal.4th 547.

          By potentially compelling charter cities to change the dates of  
            their regularly scheduled municipal elections, this bill goes  
            to the heart of the autonomy granted to charter cities in the  
            California Constitution to determine the times at which  
            municipal officers are elected.  This bill does not explicitly  
            address the question of whether it is intended to be  
            applicable to charter cities, however, so it is unclear  
            whether those cities would be subject to a lawsuit under this  
            bill.  (Counties are generally required to elect their public  
            officials at the same time as statewide elections, so this  
            bill generally would not affect counties, whether they are  
            charter counties or general law counties.  The only exception  
            is San Francisco, which is a charter city and county, and thus  
            has the autonomy of a charter city.) 









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  10






          Unlike general law cities, which conduct single-round elections  
            in which the candidate who receives a plurality of the vote is  
            deemed elected, many charter cities have chosen to conduct  
            two-round elections, in which a runoff is held between the top  
            two candidates if no candidate receives a majority of the vote  
            in the first round.  If this bill is found to be applicable to  
            charter cities, it is unclear which election would be relevant  
            for the purposes of determining whether the city has  
            experienced a "substantial decrease in voter turnout" by  
            holding its elections on a date other than a statewide  
            election date.  Would the first round election, the runoff  
            election, or both be examined when determining whether a city  
            experienced a substantial decrease in turnout?
          
          5)Substantial Limitation on Off-Cycle Elections: Although this  
            bill establishes a legal process for voters in a jurisdiction  
            to challenge the timing of that jurisdiction's regularly  
            scheduled elections if there is a "significant decrease in  
            turnout" relative to turnout in statewide elections in that  
            same jurisdiction, in practice, this bill may force almost all  
            local jurisdictions to hold their regularly scheduled  
            elections at the same time as statewide elections.  Although  
            the exact number of local governmental entities that would be  
            affected by this bill is unknown, a review of recent election  
            results by committee staff suggests that most local  
            jurisdictions that hold regularly scheduled elections at a  
            time other than at the same time as statewide elections would  
            be forced to change the dates of their elections under this  
            bill.  Of more than five dozen cities whose election results  
            were examined as part of this review, just two cities had  
            turnout in their most recent regularly scheduled municipal  
            election that was less than 25 percent lower than the average  
            turnout in the city from the prior four statewide general  
            elections. It is likely that turnout at off-cycle school  
            district and special district elections also regularly falls  
            below the threshold set by this bill under which local  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  11





            jurisdictions could be forced to move to conducting elections  
            at the same time as statewide elections.



          6)Canceled Elections & Logistical Issue:  Various provisions of  
            existing law generally permit local elections to be canceled  
            in situations where there are no contested races, if certain  
            conditions are met.  For example, if a district is scheduled  
            to elect three governing board members at an upcoming  
            election, and only three candidates file to run for those  
            three seats on the governing board, state law generally allows  
            for the election to be canceled, and for the three candidates  
            who filed to be appointed to the district's governing board.   
            Because of this policy, it is not uncommon for local  
            jurisdictions to cancel their regularly scheduled elections to  
            elect governing board members.  In some cases, a local  
            jurisdiction's election may be canceled for multiple  
            consecutive election cycles.  In such a situation, it is  
            unclear how the provisions of this bill would apply.  If a  
            local government has not conducted an election for several  
            years, will local election results from several years prior be  
            used to determine whether a violation of this bill exists? 



          7)Los Angeles County and Limitations on Election Consolidations:  
             Existing law requires all state, county, municipal, district,  
            and school district elections that are held on a statewide  
            election date to be consolidated with the statewide election,  
            except that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is  
            allowed to deny a request for consolidation of an election  
            with the statewide election if the voting system used by the  
            county cannot accommodate the additional election.  This  
            unique provision allowing Los Angeles County to deny  
            consolidation requests was created through the passage of SB  
            693 (Robbins), Chapter 897, Statutes of 1985, in response to  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  12





            attempts by a number of cities in Los Angeles to move their  
            municipal elections to the same day as statewide elections.   
            Los Angeles County sought the ability to deny consolidation  
            requests because its voting system could accommodate only a  
            limited number of contests at each election, and the county  
            was concerned that the move by cities to hold their elections  
            at the same time as the statewide election would exceed the  
            capacity of that voting system.  Los Angeles County still uses  
            a variant of the voting system that it used in 1985, though  
            the county is currently developing a new voting system.  One  
            of the principles that the county has articulated to guide the  
            development of its new voting system is having a system that  
            has "sufficient technical and physical capacity to  
            accommodate?consolidation of elections with local districts  
            and municipalities."  That voting system, however, may not be  
            available for use countywide before 2020.



          Some local jurisdictions have already taken steps to move the  
            date of their elections in anticipation of Los Angeles  
            County's new voting system.  Earlier this year, voters in the  
            city of Los Angeles and in the Los Angeles Unified School  
            District approved ballot measures to move those jurisdictions'  
            general elections so that they are held at the same time as  
            statewide elections, beginning in 2020.  Arguments in support  
            of those measures indicated that such a timeline would allow  
            local elections to be consolidated with federal and state  
            elections.  

          While this bill would go into effect on January 1, 2018, recent  
            amendments taken by the author would allow a political  
            subdivision to continue to hold its elections on dates other  
            than statewide election dates after January 1, 2018,  
            notwithstanding the provisions of this bill, if the political  
            subdivision adopts a plan not later than January 1, 2018 to  
            consolidate future elections with the statewide election  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  13





            beginning no later than November 2022.  Based on Los Angeles  
            County's current timeline for deploying its new voting system,  
            these amendments should allow political subdivisions in that  
            county to continue holding off-cycle elections until the  
            county is able to accommodate additional election  
            consolidations.

          8)Special Elections: This bill explicitly provides that its  
            provisions do not apply to special elections.  As a result,  
            special elections that are conducted by a political  
            subdivision to fill a vacancy on that subdivision's governing  
            board, or to vote on a local ballot measure, will not be  
            required to occur at the same time as statewide elections,  
            even if the turnout at special elections in the jurisdiction  
            regularly is significantly lower than the turnout in that  
            jurisdiction at statewide elections. 



          9)Arguments in Support:  In support of this bill, California  
                                                       Common Cause writes:


               One of the greatest barometers for waning civic  
               engagement in American politics is declining voter  
               turnout in federal, state, and municipal elections.  
               There are many potential contributing factors: general  
               cynicism about government and elected officials, a  
               decline in investment in civics education, and an  
               increasingly transient society. 



               Yet there is one major contributing factor to low  
               voter turnout -the timing of elections -that could be  
               addressed with a relatively simple policy change. The  
               Public Policy Institute of California surveyed 350  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  14





               California cities and found that simply moving an  
               election to be synchronized with the even year state  
               elections can result in a 21-36 percent boost in voter  
               turnout for municipal and other local elections.  
               Senate Bill 415 accomplishes this goal by prohibiting  
               municipalities from holding off-cycle elections if  
               doing so results in a significant (25% or more)  
               decline in voter turnout.

          10)Arguments in Opposition:  The Desert Water Agency (DWA),  
            which opposes this bill, writes:


               DWA holds an election for its governing board in  
               November of odd-numbered years.  The Agency was asked  
               many years ago by the Riverside County Elections  
               Department to change?its election schedule due to the  
               large size of the ballot when all elections were  
               consolidated on a statewide election date.  The  
               November 2013 election turnout for DWA was 32.32%; the  
               November 2014 statewide turnout for Riverside County  
               was 34.52%.  In comparison, voter turnout in Riverside  
               County in the 2012 presidential election was nearly  
               75%, which would significantly skew the comparative  
               analysis called for by SB 415 (an average of the  
               previous four statewide elections).



               Nevertheless, combining the DWA election with the  
               statewide election would not likely result in greater  
               voter participation?.[A] review of voter analytics  
               shows that voters are less likely to cast a vote as  
               they move down the ballot, a phenomenon known as  
               "roll-off." While this effect might be due to fatigue,  
               it also might be due to the fact that contest saliency  
               generally decreases with ballot positions.  Voter  









                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  15





               fatigue would likely counteract any benefit of forcing  
               local agencies to change election dates as they would  
               fall to the end of a crowded ballot. 
          11)Related Legislation:  AB 254 (R. HernŠndez), which was  
            scheduled to be heard in the Senate Elections and  
            Constitutional Amendments Committee on June 30, 2015 (after  
            this analysis was prepared, but before the scheduled hearing  
            for this bill), requires general law cities, school districts,  
            community college districts, and special districts to hold  
            their general elections and certain special elections at the  
            same time as the statewide primary or statewide general  
            election, or in June or November of odd-numbered years,  
            beginning in 2020.  AB 254 was approved by this committee on a  
            5-2 vote, and was approved by the Assembly on a 44-31 vote.


          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          California Common Cause




          Opposition


          Desert Water Agency













                                                                     SB 415


                                                                    Page  16





          Analysis Prepared by:Ethan Jones / E. & R. / (916)  
          319-2094