BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    ”



                                                                     SB 415


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          SENATE THIRD READING


          SB  
          415 (Hueso)


          As Amended  June 23, 2015


          Majority vote


          SENATE VOTE:  24-13


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          |Committee       |Votes|Ayes                  |Noes                |
          |                |     |                      |                    |
          |                |     |                      |                    |
          |                |     |                      |                    |
          |----------------+-----+----------------------+--------------------|
          |Elections       |4-1  |Ridley-Thomas, Gatto, |Grove               |
          |                |     |Gordon, Perea         |                    |
          |                |     |                      |                    |
          |                |     |                      |                    |
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          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% below the average turnout in that  
          jurisdiction in the last four statewide general elections, as  
          specified.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Prohibits a political subdivision from holding an election  
            other than on a statewide election date if holding an election  








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            on a non-concurrent date has previously resulted in turnout  
            that is at least 25% less than the average voter turnout  
            within that political subdivision for the previous four  
            statewide general elections.  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.


          2)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.


          3)Requires a court, upon finding a violation 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.


          4)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.


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








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


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


          COMMENTS:  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."


          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 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  








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          governing the election of municipal officers.  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.   


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


          AB 254 (Roger HernŠndez) of the current legislative session,  
          which is pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee,  
          requires general law cities, school districts, community college  
          districts, and special districts to hold their general elections  








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          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  
          the Assembly on a 44-31 vote.




          Please see the policy committee analysis for a full discussion  
          of this bill.


          Analysis Prepared by:                                             
                          Ethan Jones / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094  FN:  
          0001119