The Bishop City Council has decided to move forward with consolidating municipal elections with county and federal elections as a cost-cutting move, despite the decision costing council members four months of their respective terms. Traditionally, the council elections were held in March, but now will be held in November of even-numbered years.
Bishop’s elected leaders took up the issue with a public hearing and draft ordinance at its meeting Dec. 12. The city has predicted the consolidation will save taxpayers approximately $15,000 every other year. The council had directed staff to research the pros and cons of consolidation and the Inyo County Registrar’s Office assisted in the research.
The matter is not as easy as the city simply joining the county in elections because there is a crop of new mandates and changes that will go into effect for the 2012 election statewide. With this new crop of changes comes a set of questions as the system navigates uncharted waters.
“2012 is a big maybe,” Kammi Foote, Inyo County’s registrar of voters, told the council on Dec. 12. She described two major changes to this year’s state elections.
The changes could make the November election a physically larger and bulkier ballot that can add as-yet unknown costs for postage. There is also concern from the council and Foote that a larger ballot could mean local issues and candidates getting lost in a ballot full of state and national measures and candidates. As per voter approved legislation, all state propositions will now appear solely on the November ballots.
Also in 2012, the Presidential Primaries change too, Foote added. Per voter approved Proposition 14, the state now has a “Top Two Candidates Open Primary.” Prior to 2012, only voters registered with a political affiliation could vote in that party’s primary. Now, the voting is open to all despite registered political affiliation. Voters can also vote for any candidate they choose. And, the two candidates with the most votes, despite party affiliation, will move ahead as the state’s candidates in the General Election.
Foote explained, “We don’t know how the changes will effect the overall costs.”
The possible savings accrued during a consolidation were made obvious when solely-municipal and county inclusion election costs were compared.
According to the agenda packet, the cost of the 2011 Municipal Election was, ultimately, $18.86 per vote cast. The 2010 county and statewide election that included Measure C, Bishop’s famous Chicken Measure, cost $.58 per vote.
There was some concern voiced by the council that the unknowns of the 2012 election could create a mess of unknown proportions, but the money savings is obvious.
Councilmember Jeff Griffiths said, “The numbers are striking.”
Councilmember Susan Cullen said she did not want to lose the four months of her term and work as a public servant.
The council voted to approve the ordinance with the first of two readings of the ordinance on Jan. 9. The ordinance will eventually go to the Inyo County Board Supervisors for approval.