Lousy turnout, high costs in Speier’s election

speier.jpgNot many people voted in Tuesday’s special election which Jackie Speier won (at almost 78 percent) to fill the vacancy left by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos‘ death in February.

San Mateo County Elections Officer Warren Slocum today announced the turnout was “dismal” both in San Mateo County (25.9 percent) and in the City and County of San Francisco (24.7 percent). Those who did vote overwhelmingly did so by mail — 73 percent in both counties. In real numbers, 17,595 votes were cast at San Mateo County’s polls and 5,202 at San Francisco’s.

In San Mateo County, the cost works out to a whopping $26.70 per precinct voter. By comparison, the cost will be about $11.60 per mail voter.

slocum.jpg“We will spend a million dollars to conduct an election that could have been held for less than half this money all because there is no enabling legislation to allow counties to conduct special elections by mail,” Slocum raged in his news release. “It’s outrageous. If we charged the cities a per voter cost of $26.70 per precinct voter, they would probably sue us.”

Slocum said San Mateo County’s in-person voting requires recruiting, training and placing more than 1,000 poll workers, 32 field technicians and 32 ride-along-coordinators to provide technical assistance in the field, 59 poll opening/closing technicians, and the delivery and retrieval of 2,128 pieces of equipment to 164 polling locations.

Slocum said many precincts saw fewer than 50 voters in the 13 hours they were open, including those just coming in to drop off mail-in ballots. That makes for an awfully boring day, he said, which makes recruiting workers for future elections harder.

“It’s actually one of the more difficult tasks that we’re faced with—and today’s poll workers need to be more savvy and more technically competent than ever before,” said Slocum. “Ask any chief elections officer in the state of California or in the country. It’s a common problem.”

Slocum says we simply can’t afford to conduct special elections like regular elections. “The federal and state governments do not provide any funding to cover these election costs and even if they did, the funds should not be wasted in this manner when there are viable alternatives that promote voting for less than half the cost. This is a disgrace.”

Anyhow, here’s today’s report on her first day on the job, and here’s video from yesterday of Speier’s swearing-in and first floor speech (in which she wasted no time criticizing the Iraq war, drawing boos and walkouts from Republicans):

Seeing Speier sworn in kinda gives you chills when you consider how long she has been trying to get there: She ran in the 1979 special election to succeed her former boss, Leo Ryan, who had been assassinated in November 1978 by Jim Jones’ People’s Temple gunmen in Guyana (where Speier herself was gravely wounded). A long, strange trip indeed…

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.