Local government is closest to the people; Should he go first on the ballots?

Why did the last polls start with the least relevant contests, the far-flung state and federal races that were uncompetitive in many cases?

And why are the competitions that have the most daily impact on people’s lives – the local races – ranked last?

With the final tally showing only about a third of Orange County voters turned out in primary elections this month, some are starting to question that — and state lawmakers are considering changes.

Three of OC’s top professors of local politics – Fred Smoller, Jodi Balma and Mike Moodian – all stress that local races must come first, noting that local governments are closest to the people and often affect the daily lives of people. residents more than state or federal governments.

“More importantly, you want the level of government that directly affects people” to come first, said Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University, in a telephone interview.

“Where they say the rubber hits the road is local. And therefore, positions that are frequently ignored should receive the most attention.

Moodian, his colleague Chapman, notes that voters usually already know who they will choose as president and governor by the time they receive the ballots.

He said prioritizing local races would give voters “an opportunity to get to know the people they’re voting for and do a bit more independent research.”

Some OC supervisors said they really had no feelings about it one way or another.

Supervisor Don Wagner said the proposals, which are few on the ballots, still get people to the polls.

Prioritizing local races would require a change in state law.

And it’s something top state lawmakers say they want to pursue after being asked about it by Voice of OC.

“I would consider doing this again next year,” said Sen. Josh Newman, who is Orange County’s sole representative on either election committee in the state legislature.

“There are, for me, no big convincing arguments against it. And so I’d be interested to hear from my colleagues… [and] I would be inclined to pursue that,” he said. “Your local government, your city council, arguably has the most impact on people.”

Local elected officials, Newman added, have the most immediate effect on residents’ lives.

“[Local government is] kind of anything that has an impact on your situation, your quality of life. So, if you were proposing to bring these people together at the start of the vote, I am in complete agreement.

The head of the state Senate Elections Committee also said he was open to changing state law so that counties that want to prioritize local races can do so.

“[Am I] open to other communities and counties who would like to change the order doing so? Yes,” said Senator Ben Glazer, who chairs the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.

“I tend to avoid statewide mandates. But where local communities want it, I am very open to that,” he added.

Glazer also said he was concerned about the drop in voters as they drove to lower local races.

“Stalling is a problem. And I agree that local government – ​​the government closest to the people – is always the most effective, the most responsive. And it’s sad to see less interest there. And there is a trend going in the wrong direction in my opinion.

The Los Angeles County Experience

There’s a place in California that was recently allowed to prioritize local races.

LA County is in the midst of a short-term trial to prioritize local races on its ballots — in 2020 and this year’s election, stemming from a 2018 state law.

After that, the county is required to report back to the state on how it went and has the option to pursue this approach.

Dean Logan is in charge of elections in LA County.

He said a full analysis has yet to be done on how the change has affected turnout, but all signs point to as many people voting for the president as before, despite it being moved to the back of ballot papers.

“There is no indication that we have seen so far, for example in 2020, that this had a negative effect on, say, the presidential race which was at the very end of the ballot,” Logan said during of a telephone interview.

Much of what prompted LA County’s change was a new state law requiring cities and school districts to switch to even-year polls with the gubernatorial and presidential races, as opposed to their previous practice of d have elections in odd years.

Many of these local officials feared being buried at the end of the long polls.

When the LA County bill made its way to Sacramento, the only group opposing it was the state’s association of election officials. They expressed concern that voters would think the presidential race is “missing” from the ballots and flooding the county with appeals.

Logan said those calls came in, but not to the point of causing major problems for his staff. And he said that over time, voters adjust to the new order.

“It was definitely not something where I would say the pilot [law putting local races first] was disruptive,” Logan said. “We knew that and we were prepared for it, and we were able to answer those calls.”

“I think it’s just a voter education factor, that voters will get used to the order, if it’s passed and maintained in the future.”

He added that it’s “probably good policy” to have the same voting order statewide, for consistency for voters.

The law allowing LA County to prioritize local races was proposed by Sen. Anthony Portantino, who said the idea came from local government officials like Ardy Kassakhian, then Glendale City Clerk.

In an interview with Voice of OC, Portantino said that when the state forced LA County towns to shore up their elections with state and federal races, Kassakhian and others told him they were ” worried that on one of these long ballots, people are voting for the President of the United States and not going all the way and voting for the school board and the city council.

Portantino said he had not received any complaints about the change in the order of the ballot.

“We haven’t seen any of that. I have not seen or received a complaint. Only appreciation that it made sense,” he said.

Other lawmakers have since expressed interest in expanding the idea elsewhere, he said, adding that he was “happy to collaborate” with Newman on this.

Will OC consider a change?

What do OC leaders think?

The man who oversees OC elections, Registrar of Electors Bob Page, deferred his comments to county supervisors, noting that they are in charge of the county’s legislative priorities.

The only supervisors to return messages for comment were Don Wagner and Lisa Bartlett, who wondered if changing the order would make a difference to getting more participation.

“I don’t have strong feelings,” Wagner said in a text message to Voice of OC.

“Voters interested in a particular race will find it on the ballot. Initiatives are said to bring voters out and they are usually towards the end. I doubt it will have much effect.

“It would take a compelling argument to change the order on the ballot and prioritize local offices,” Bartlett said in a text message to Voice of OC.

When asked if prioritizing local races would help the “dip”, Bartlett said that “there should be a scientific way to determine if there is indeed a drop in voting at the end of the ballot”.

Voice of OC found an example.

In this month’s election, the county district attorney race had significantly more publicity and public exposure in Orange County than the state attorney general race.

Still, about 47,000 fewer voters cast ballots in the DA race – which was listed near the back of the ballots – than the AG race, which was listed forward.

“That’s an interesting stat,” Bartlett replied.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected]

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