There was such a dismal turnout at the polling sites during last week’s special election, the entire election might as well have been done by mail, San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum said.
Only 25.9 percent of San Mateo County voters turned out for the 12th Congressional District special election won by Jackie Speier, elections officials said. The city and county of San Francisco had a turnout of 24.7 percent. About 73 percent of those voters from both regions cast their ballots by mail.
The lack of voters resulted in bored elections workers at the polling sites and a lot of county money wasted on staffing and office supplies, Slocum said.
"We will spend a million dollars to conduct an election that could have been held for less than half this money all because there is no enabling legislation to allow counties to conduct special elections by mail," he said.
In San Mateo County, the cost works out to $26.70 per precinct voter, money that was spent to staff precincts with more than 1,100 poll workers and elections technicians, Slocum said. The county also paid for mounds of paperwork and writing utensils and the delivery and retrieval of more than 2,100 pieces of equipment to 164 polling locations, he said.
"We simply cannot afford to conduct special elections like regular elections," Slocum said.
Slocum wants the state to enact a new law to allow counties to implement all-mail special elections. It’s a much smaller request from what Slocum asked for three years ago, when he pushed for legislation that would have allowed San Mateo and six other counties to conduct all elections by mail. That legislation died in Sacramento, Slocum said, because there had been fears that voting by mail would dissuade minority voters from participating.
"But we certainly have enough data in this modern era to know that [voting by mail] doesn’t necessarily favor one party or another," Slocum said.
He said it should be especially alarming that folks didn’t travel to the polling sites in the most recent special election, which featured a widely known candidate.
"Jackie is like an icon, she has a following," he said.
Speier said she would be open to "a financial analysis" of Slocum’s proposal, said Alex Tourk, her campaign manager, Alex Tourk, said.
"She believes that any decision needs a balance of financial costs and voter access," Tourk said.
April 8 election by the numbers
The San Mateo County Elections Office announced it will push for state legislation to allow counties to hold special elections entirely via mail after what the office called a "dismal" turnout in the April 8 special election for the 12th congressional district.
San Mateo County: 25.9 percent
City and county of San Francisco: 24.7 percent
Both counties: 73 percent of turnout
Cost for San Mateo County
$26.70 per precinct voter (317 precincts)
$11.60 per mail voter
County’s precinct operations
1,000 poll workers
32 field technicians
32 ride-along coordinators
59 poll technicians
Source: San Mateo County Elections Office