The Future of Elections in Pasadena May Face Significant Changes

Published : Wednesday, February 15, 2017 | 7:57 PM

The Pasadena City Council and the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education are holding a joint meeting on Thursday, February 16, at 6:30 p.m., to discuss, among other issues, the future of elections in Pasadena, which may be facing very significant changes.

City Clerk Mark Jomsky, in an Agenda Report for the joint meeting, said changes to the state’s Elections Code have become more significant in the last two to four years, with new laws impacting the timing of when elections can occur, as well as the way voters experience elections.

“In tying these issues back to Pasadena and PUSD, it is clear that there are changes on the horizon for future local elections,” Jomsky said. “The question on how this all impacts City and School District elections will need to be more fully examined. Staff has been working hard to gather all the relevant information in order to facilitate the discussion.”

Jomsky will introduce Aaron Nevarez, a Division Manager with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, who is scheduled to deliver a presentation at the joint meeting to explain the implications of these changes in the state law to future elections in California and Los Angeles County. These changes will not impact the upcoming City Council and PUSD Board elections in March.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and PUSD Board President Kimberly Kenne jointly will lead the meeting.

“What this is is an introduction and an overview for the Council and the Board of Education to consider the upcoming changes to the County’s voting system, how this all works together, and to start a discussion on how to proceed going forward,” Jomsky said.

Under the California Voter Participation Rights Act (CVPRA) signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, all local elections that occur on “off-year” election dates are required to shift to statewide election dates which are in June and November of even-numbered years when local voter turnout rates average 25 percent less than statewide rates for the same political subdivision.

To comply with the law, cities and local agencies in the state will have until the November 2022 election cycle to transition to statewide election dates.
For Los Angeles County, the change will affect many of the 88 cities that hold off-year elections. These cities which are subject to the change in the law will have until January 1, 2018 to declare an intention to transition to statewide election dates.

Jomsky said the City has requested a clarification from the State Attorney General’s Office on the applicability of the CVPRA on Pasadena and other charter cities, including when Board of Education elections are governed and contained in a city charter, as is the case for PUSD.

The clarification has yet to be issued.

“The City and School District are waiting on the State Attorney General’s Office for an opinion regarding the question of applicability. Once received, we can then move forward with a discussion regarding what is best for City and School District elections — whether to maintain the odd-year elections or transition to statewide dates. Ultimately, any changes required will still be up to the voters of Pasadena, because a Charter Amendment requires a vote of the people,” Jomsky said.

The County will also discuss the impact of the California Voter’s Choice Act (SB 450) and the County’s Voting System Assessment Project (VSAP) on elections held in Pasadena.

In an effort to replace small neighborhood polling sites open on only one day, the Voter’s Choice Act offers such options to counties as all-mail ballot elections, or large voting centers utilizing a 10-day voting window.

The Act focuses on providing voters with a choice on how, where, and when to cast a ballot in an election. Jomsky said this voting model where large voting centers are open for 10 days has been developed and used in Colorado, where turnout rates and voter participation are among the highest levels in the country. In the voting centers, voters can choose from a wide range of election services and can use modern voting equipment that are more accessible and voter friendly.

On the other hand, the county’s Voting System Assessment Project (VSAP), which kicked off in 2009, intends to replace the current Ink-A-Vote system which still uses paper ballots and set in place a “voting system design that will put voters at the center and maximize stakeholder participation,” as explained by the Los Angeles County Clerk/Registrar-Recorder that developed the project.

After passing through public opinion and baseline research, process assessment and system design and engineering phases, VSAP is now on its manufacturing and certification phase until 2019, and is targeted for implementation by 2020.

One of its outcomes would be an increased ballot capacity that will be able to accommodate all political subdivision elections in Los Angeles County – including Pasadena’s elections – on a single ballot.

Like Ink-A-Vote, Pasadena’s Opto-Mark voting system is substantially the same voting technology and has been in use during the past 60 years.

Another major by-product resulting from the recent changes in state law is the impact on Pasadena’s election vendor, Martin and Chapman, which has been negatively affected by the recent changes in the state’s election law.

As a result of CVPRA and the change to statewide election dates, the company has lost many of its client cities. Although the vendor will still be providing election consultant services through the 2019 election cycle, Jomsky said anything beyond that point is uncertain.

“The City Clerk’s Office is not structured, nor is it in a position, to handle election services on an in-house basis, so the obvious and best positioned entity is the County of Los Angeles’ Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk,” Jomsky said. “Understanding that these changes are fast approaching, it is important that the City and School District prepare to study the available options and alternatives shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 election cycle.”

The special joint meeting will also hear an oral report on the City of Pasadena’s Office of the Young Child, an annual report for Collaborate Pasadena, and an update on the Pasadena Youth Master Plan.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chamber Room S249 at Pasadena City Hall.