Democracy won’t come cheap in Los Angeles in 2017. Voters from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock will likely vote twice — after two earlier elections last year — to fill a single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the final ballots costing county taxpayers more than $1.3 million to cast and count. This episode begins with former Sen. Barbara Boxer’s decision to retire in 2016, leading to the election of Sen. Kamala Harris. When she gave up her post as state attorney general, Gov. Jerry Brown chose Los Angeles Rep. Xavier Becerra as her replacement. And to fill Becerra’s seat, Brown must call a special election in the 34th Congressional District. We’ll get to the timing of that election in a moment. The common sense meaning of the word “special” is to describe something that, at the very least, is unusual. But there have been 50 special legislative or congressional elections in California in the last decade, according to state records. Thirteen contests were held in 2013 — more than any single year for almost the last quarter-century.
While the elections themselves are no longer special, the costs to conduct them are almost always a surprise to the counties that must pay for them. Dean Logan, the registrar of voters for Los Angeles County, said his $1.3-million estimate for the election to replace Becerra doesn’t factor in what happens if the winner is a sitting legislator.
“The congressional contest could result in a legislative vacancy, which starts the whole process over again,” he said.
In all, Logan’s office conducted 23 special elections from 2008 to 2015. The total cost: $22.7 million.