With consistently low voter turnouts, there’s chatter to expand the electoral pool by lowering the voting age or even by requiring people to vote. Has anyone considered that too few voters might be the result of too many special elections? Last week, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos introduced a measure to lower the voting age to 16 for municipal elections, apparently forgetting how shallow high school elections can be. Then President Barack Obama suggested that mandatory voting “would counteract money more than anything,” apparently because we don’t have enough low-information voters to manipulate with big-money campaign propaganda. Neither idea is likely to happen, but special elections are happening in droves.
From 2000 to 2010, California had 32 special legislative or congressional elections. Since then, we’ve had another 34, including three state Senate contests just last week. In those, voter turnout topped 30 percent just four times, two in November general elections. Turnout was 20 percent or less in 20 special elections, and in the single digits in eight.
… Some suggest that the governor fill all legislative and U.S. House vacancies by appointment, which he already is empowered to do for the U.S. Senate and county boards of supervisors. (And which school boards lawfully can do with trustees.)
That idea would address several problems. Special elections are expensive. That Sacramento council election will cost taxpayers an estimated $200,000; the Twin Rivers election will cost $113,000. A 2013 special election in the 32nd Senate District covering Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties cost $2 million – and voter turnout was 10 percent. Los Angeles County has spent $12 million on more than a dozen special elections over the last decade.