Special districts may be moved to statewide elections

The last August election for members of the Pine Cove Water District may have occurred this week. The Aug. 29 election was conducted with mail-in ballots. (The results are online now and will be in the Sept. 4 issue of the Town Crier.)

When there are more candidates than available seats, both Fern Valley and Idyllwild Water districts conduct August mail-in elections.

But an obscure and barely noticed law, passed two years ago, limits future municipal and special-district elections held in off-year elections. These are defined as elections other than the statewide presidential and gubernatorial elections held in November of even-numbered years.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 415 in September 2015. Beginning in January 2018, political jurisdictions may not hold an election other than during a statewide general election if prior off-year elections resulted in too low of a voter turnout.

Low voter turnout is considered 25 percent less than the average turnout for the previous four statewide general elections.

In 2010 and 2014, the state held gubernatorial elections and in 2012 and 2016, presidential elections occurred. In Pine Cove, the average voter turnout for those four elections was 79.9 percent.

While the results of last week’s vote were not available in time for this story, the turnout for the 2015 election of directors was 43.5 percent. That is about 55 percent of the average for the four latest general elections.

Unless turnout for last week was greater than 60, PCWD will likely have to shift its election of board members to general elections starting with the next potential director election in 2019.

Some have argued that turnout for the 2016 election, 92 percent in Pine Cove, was unusually high because of President Donald Trump’s presence on the ballot. If this election turnout were excluded from the calculation of the average and replaced with the 2008 presidential election turnout, the new four-election average turnout would be 88.1 percent, which would reduce the four-election average only 1 percent.

However, the law allows jurisdictions to delay this election shift if they have approved a plan to move future elections to statewide elections by Nov. 8, 2022.

IWD held elections for directors in 2007 and 2015. The turnout was 40 percent and 36 percent, respectively. The average turnout for the last four statewide general elections in Idyllwild has been 78.6 percent.

According to Rebecca Spencer, the county’s registrar of voters, the cost to the districts for having an election at a different time and different manner “… will be about the same.”

During a statewide election, many more jurisdictions are on the ballot. The total cost is allocated based on the number of registered voters in each jurisdiction. The Hill water districts would be very small compared to the municipalities and multiple school districts.

“All mail-ballot elections are generally cheaper, but due to the large amount of cost sharing in even years, it pretty much ends up being about the same,” she said and added the office is working with county counsel on the effect of possible changes on landowner districts, such as FVWD.

In April 2015, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District enacted a resolution to shift its commission elections to the November general election dates. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the election change in November 2015. Normally, IFPD would have had an election for commissioners this month. The next election will now be on the November 2018 ballot.