Authored Articles & Publications Feb 01, 2016

New California Law May Require Public Agencies to Change Regular Election Dates

By William J. Priest

Senate Bill 415 applies to cities, counties, school districts and other special districts that have a regular election date that is different from the statewide primary or general election (June and November of even-numbered years). Public agencies with “off schedule” regular elections must change their date to either the statewide primary or general election, if the agency’s voter turnout for its current election date is at least 25 percent lower than its average turnout for the last four statewide general elections (Nov. 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008).

Because average turnout at a statewide general election is often much higher than at an “off schedule” election, a 25 percent voter turnout decline will be easy to prove in many cases. Therefore, SB 415 will likely force many public agencies with “off schedule” regular elections to change their election date. Public agencies covered by SB 415 must start complying by Jan. 1, 2018 or, at the very least, must adopt a plan by that time to change the regular election date by Nov. 8, 2022.

If an agency fails to comply, SB 415 authorizes local citizens to file a lawsuit to make the agency change its regular election date. If a violation is proven, the court has broad powers to ensure future elections occur on the statewide primary or general election, and to award attorney’s fees and costs to the successful plaintiff.

SB 415, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year and in effect since Jan. 1, only affects the timing of regular local elections for council/board members. It does not affect the timing of special elections to fill mid-term council/board vacancies or to consider local measures, which may be held at any time allowed by existing law. It is unclear as to whether SB 415 applies to charter cities and counties.

Note: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct BBKnowledge blog, where Best Best & Krieger authors shared their knowledge on emerging issues in public agency law.

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