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School district ready to ‘get even’ for elections

At the November 3 meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, the school board will vote on a resolution to hold all future school board elections in November on even years.

The resolution comes in response to Senate Bill 415, the California Voter Protection Act, which became effective in January 2016. The bill aims to remedy two problems with off-cycle elections: low voter turnout and higher costs.

The district cancelled the election set for November 2015 due to lack of opposition. The terms of Hilary LaConte and Sam Mowbray expired, but no one filed to run against them.

Mr. Mowbray opted not to run for office again, so Beth Bingham was offered a return position on the board. Ms. LaConte, who first joined the board in 2007, chose to renew her position.

Nancy Treser Osgood and Dave Nemer were first elected in 2013. The same year, Steven Llanusa was re-elected for a third term. The latter three candidates will be up for re-election in 2017.

CUSD’s resolution was crafted after a special workshop held on October 20, where Tiffany Tran of Atkinson, Adelson, Loya, Rudd and Roma provided legal council.

Meeting attendees learned that any political subdivision—including city, school district or community college district—that has held an off-cycle election yielding a measurably low voter turnout must comply with the law. Claremont falls into this category.

The law spells out the threshold specifically. If the voter turnout for the last four local elections has averaged 25 percent less than the average voter turnout for the previous four statewide general elections, the bill mandates you must adjust your election policy.

Voter turnout in Claremont for the last four local elections has averaged 21 percent, fully 49 percent less than the average 70 percent turnout for the previous four California general elections.

The board agreed they wanted to make the adjustment quickly to be ahead of the curve, even though it is unlikely the law will be immediately enforced.

Also, Ms. Tran had emphasized a lack of compliance could leave CUSD open to a lawsuit pressed by an individual who contends that the district’s off-cycle election has wasted taxpayer money. Should a judge agree, the district would have to pay attorney and litigation fees.

There was another decision before them, though.

Senate Bill 415 also stipulates districts must make a decision: hold elections in either November or June of even-numbered years. They then proceeded to weigh the pros and cons of adopting either month as an election norm.

November elections tend to get higher voter turnout, it was noted, but the ballots are often be busier. Some board members wondered whether voters would fall victim to voter fatigue, voting for big-ticket items like the presidency and eschewing more local issues such as school board races.

June elections typically have smaller ballots, making it harder for a school board to get lost in the shuffle. Still, a couple of board members expressed concern that families, caught up with end-of-year concerns like graduations and impending vacations, might be too busy to engage in a CUSD contest.

The board conceded there are some compelling reasons to move elections to June. What’s more, school board member Steven Llanusa wasn’t present at the meeting. By the end of the deliberation, however, the board was leaning towards November elections.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com