The County Clerk-Recorder’s office had a banner year conducting elections. Many people may not be aware that County government is solely responsible for administering elections. In San Luis Obispo County, this is done through the County Clerk-Recorder’s office.
In 2016, the County Clerk-Recorder’s office managed three separate elections, each one with its own intricacies and level of importance.
Pioneering a New Election Process for Proposed Water District
The first series of elections were related to the potential formation of the Paso Robles Basin Water District.
In 2016, the County of San Luis Obispo led the State in a new election process to deal with management of stressed water basins. For this election, State legislation (AB2453) was passed in 2014 to allow a hybrid composition of board members to be elected, should the water district in the Paso Robles Basin be formed.
Ours was the first county in the California to conduct an election like this, which is different from and much more complicated than typical elections. Turnout was 63.9 percent for registered voters and 64.8 percent for landowners. While voters ultimately rejected the formation and funding of the proposed water district on March 8, 2016, the County worked hard to ensure that this election process was well organized and well-governed.
For this election, registered voters had an opportunity to elect three of nine of the directors that would govern the Paso Robles Basin. The other six directors would have been elected by property owners in the district. To complicate things further, while the registered-voter director contest was one vote per voter, the landowner director election was tabulated according to the number of acres that each landowner owned.
The formation vote was just as complex, not just because it involved landowner voters, but because each voter was only allowed to cast one vote. In other words, the weighted value approach that was applied to the landowner director contests was not applied here. So a landowner might own multiple parcels and many, many acres, but he or she was only entitled to one vote in the matter of forming the basin water district.
Every effort was made to instruct voters who could have received up to three different ballots to put each ballot in the corresponding envelope (i.e. the blue ballot should have gone in the blue envelope, etc.). Lastly, the funding vote calling for a special tax measure going to registered voters for the matter of funding the $950,000 annual costs of operating the water district.
Primary Election Breaks Records
The Presidential Primary Election held on June 7, 2016 set many records. Along with a record-setting 155,804 registered voters for a primary, the number of ballots cast also broke local records: 95,236 ballots were cast in the 2016 Presidential Primary Election, the most ever for a primary election in San Luis Obispo County.
The Presidential Primary election is typically among the most costly to manage, since partisan ballots are required to be printed reflecting the political parties that are qualified by the Secretary of State.
During this election, the County printed ballots for voters registered with the following parties: American Independent, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, and Republican. A separate nonpartisan ballot was printed for those with no party preference as well as additional party ballots for those political parties allowing these voters the option of voting in their Presidential primary contest.
The voter turnout was 61.13 percent, which was once again higher than the statewide turnout of 47.72 percent. As in the past elections, voters who chose to vote by mail outnumbered those who went to the polls on Election Day. In fact, 69,128 voted by mail (72.6 percent of the voters), the highest number of vote-by-mail ballots cast during a Primary Election, while 26,108 voted at the polls (27.4 percent of the voters).
General Election Shatters Previous Records
The general election broke many records for the County as well. An unprecedented number of registered voters – 168,257 – shattered the previous record of 162,459 in 2004 for a general election.
This election also saw the highest number of voter participation, with 139,685 ballots cast. A record-setting number of vote-by-mail ballots were sent to voters at 121,467, and the most vote-by-mail ballots were returned to the County election office – 99,638.
The General Election is among the largest since it consolidates all State and local jurisdictions’ contests. The County conducted elections for 12 school district director contests, seven city mayor/council member races, nine special district director contests, 17 State propositions, five school bond measures, four city measures, and a countywide transportation tax measure.
The voter turnout was 83.02 percent, just shy of the County record at 83.14 percent in 2008 (161,256 registered voters in 2008), but the turnout was once again higher than the statewide turnout at 75.3 percent.
As in past elections, the voters who chose to vote by mail outnumbered those who went to the polls on Election Day. In fact, 98,691 voted by mail (70.65 percent of the voters), the highest number of vote-by-mail ballots cast during a General Election, while 40,994 voted at the polls (29.35 percent of the voters).