Under a state law that takes effect next year, the large majority of school and community college districts that hold governing board elections in odd years will need to shift those elections to even years. Senate Bill 415 (“SB 415”) requires all local agencies that currently hold elections in odd years to examine the number of voters participating in their elections and adopt a proposal to shift elections to even years if the number of voters participating in even-numbered year elections is significantly higher.
Districts currently holding governing board elections in even years are unaffected by this new law. Many districts that currently hold odd-year elections are acting early this year to shift their 2017 elections to 2018 (and even years thereafter). Those districts that do not act before the deadline to move the 2017 election can take action later this year to shift their future election dates to comply with SB 415.
SB 415 mandates that a political subdivision “not hold an election other than on a statewide election date if holding an election on a nonconcurrent date has previously resulted in a significant decrease in voter turnout.” A “significant decrease in voter turnout” exists where “the voter turnout for a regularly scheduled election in a [district] is at least 25 percent less than the average voter turnout within that political subdivision for the previous four statewide general elections.”
In other words, a district would violate SB 415 by continuing to hold odd-year elections if the voter turnout in the district’s governing board elections is at least 25 percent less than the average turnout of voters in that same district in the last four elections held in November of even years. Some County election officials have been performing this analysis and notifying local districts whether they may be required to make the move to even year elections.
SB 415 allows a voter in a school district to bring a lawsuit if the district fails to comply with these requirements. If the lawsuit is successful, the court may order “appropriate remedies, including the imposition of concurrent election dates for future elections and the upgrade of voting equipment or systems to do so.” Additionally, the individual who brought the lawsuit may seek reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.
To move governing board elections from odd to even years, a district’s governing board must adopt and submit a request to shift election dates to the County Board of Supervisors. This request must be submitted no later than 240 days before the election in question. The County Board of Supervisors must approve the resolution unless it finds that the ballot style, voting equipment, or computer capacity is such that the additional elections or materials cannot be handled by the County’s election system. Within 30 days of the approval of the request by the County Board of Supervisors, the County elections official is required to notify all voters in the district by mail of the change at the expense of the district.
If a governing board shifts the date of its elections, current governing board members continue to serve until successors are elected at the next election. In most cases, this will result in current board members serving an additional year on the governing board.
If voter turnout requires a district to shift its elections, a governing board may act (as many already have) before March 12, 2017 to move its 2017 election to 2018, and every two years thereafter.
A district, however, is not required by the new law to shift its 2017 election. Because the law does not take effect until January 1, 2018, it is possible to hold 2017, 2019, and 2021 elections as scheduled, as long as the district adopts a plan by January 1, 2018 to move its elections to even years no later than 2022. If a plan is not adopted before the start of 2018, then a district impacted by SB 415 would be required to take action to move its 2019 election to 2020.
Please contact us if you have questions about this new requirement for governing board elections.