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NORCO: City elections pushed back a year

July 13,2016 07:19

The new law applies to cities, counties and school districts where voter turnout in odd-numbered years is at least 25 percent less than general election years. In Norco, there is a 63 percent decrease in voter turnout during odd-year elections compared ...

Norco officials are changing the city’s election cycle, giving each city council member an additional year in office.
The switch was necessary to maintain compliance with California Senate Bill 415. That law takes effect Jan. 1, 2018, and requires municipalities and school districts to hold elections on even-numbered years to coincide with statewide general elections, when voter turnout is generally much higher.
The new law applies to cities, counties and school districts where voter turnout in odd-numbered years is at least 25 percent less than general election years. In Norco, there is a 63 percent decrease in voter turnout during odd-year elections compared to even years, data from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters shows.
The Norco City Council voted unanimously Wednesday, July 6, to extend the terms. Council members whose four-year terms were set to expire in November 2017 or 2019 will remain in office until November 2018 or 2020, respectively.
The first even-year election will be held Nov. 6, 2018.
Norco Mayor Kevin Bash, whose current term was set to expire in 2017, said he’s been advocating for an election cycle switch for several years. He said the move will ultimately save the city money by consolidating voting dates.
The City Clerk’s office could not immediately provide any cost-saving estimates. Officials say it will cost $5,000-$7,000 to notify voters of the changes in local elections.
The mayor saw some potential negatives.
“My fear is that people may not be as engaged as to who is running and what they’ve accomplished,” Bash said. “There are some advantages to having off-year elections. The obvious disadvantage is that not enough people vote.”
Councilman Berwin Hanna will be up for re-election in 2020. He said the new election dates will provide a big boost to turnout, and he’s confident voters will come to the polls educated about their potential leaders.
“If someone’s going to vote, I think they are going to know about who they’re voting for instead of saying ‘eenie meenie miney moe,’” Hanna said. “I never voted that way. I can’t speak for others, but people deserve a bit more credit than that.”
In California, 369 cities hold elections in concurrence with statewide races, according to a report prepared by Norco City Attorney John Harper. Another 113 cities hold odd-year elections.
Norco City Manager Andy Okoro said the city switched to odd-year elections in 1993 at the request of the county Registrar of Voters, “in order to alleviate the heavy burden of all cities having all elections at one time.”
Okoro said the intent of the latest bill is to generate more voter participation in local government, a mission he said he supports.
Contact the writer: 951-368-9644, poneill@pe.com, @PE_PatrickO

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