Quietly, and without warning, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach has introduced a proposal to place on the November 2014 ballot a Charter amendment requiring that all special elections for County offices be conducted by mail only. Under his plan, voters would not be able to vote in person at their local precinct on the day of a special election. His public rationale is simple, he want’s to save a few bucks in special election costs.
Moorlach’s proposal for all mail voting in special county-wide elections estimates cost savings of $200,000. His proposal uses calculations allegedly based upon special elections held in 2009 and 2011. While there was a state-wide special election in 2009, there were no county-wide special elections in 2011 that we can find in the records of the Registrar of Voters. The only special elections that would occur under the proposal would be to fill the vacancy of a Supervisor that occurs during the first three years of a term. Such an election, by his own admission in the proposal, would save significantly less. for the sake of argument, we calculate the sayings to be 20% of what his proposal misleadingly suggests. That’s an estimated savings of $40,000 rather than $200,000.
Using the example of the last county-wide election in 2009, 33% of voters choose to vote in person at a local precinct, rather than by mail. The vast majority of those voters are lower income voters who also seem to vote more in line with democrats than republicans. All you need to do to see this, is to look at the difference between vote by mail results and precinct votes.
Saving an estimated $20,000 on a special election to confuse voters who are used to voting in person at their local precinct seems to have a limited benefit for the public at large. But such a change can have a huge impact on a special election in a special election for a county supervisor.
The potential impact is significant if, for example, a special election were held to replace current First District Supervisor Janet Nguyen if she wins the general election for the 34th State Senate district in November. Nguyen is the current front-runner after the June primary election and the contest is currently considered to be very close, leaning towards a Nguyen victory in November.
In a hypothetical contest next year, a Vietnamese Republican from Garden Grove, Council member Chris Pham is already campaigning and his probable Democrat opponent could be current State Senator Lou Correa. In general, special elections have a significantly lower turnout than general and primary elections. Add to that the fact that by percentage, Republican leaning voters are more likely to vote by mail than Democrat leaning voters. Then add on top of that the fact that Vietnamese voters are more likely to vote regularly by mail than Latino voters. With these factors added to the mix, it is clear that the real, but concealed, reason for this proposal has nothing to do with saving money, and everything to do with preserving Republican control of a Supervisor seat in a district that should lean towards a Democrat being elected over a Republican.
We urge the Board of Supervisors to see through this thinly veiled attempt to manipulate special election results by disenfranchising people who vote in person at their local precinct. This proposal has no business being presented to the voters. If the Board wants to do something to effect voting in Orange County, maybe they should focus on getting more people to vote, in all elections.