Start the Presses: Mail-in ballots and election overtime

As a reporter and, later, editor, I have covered about a dozen elections on the local, county and state levels. Despite the differences in the issues, the candidates and the offices sought, one thing has remained steadfastly the same: Elections are hard on everyone.

They are hard on the candidates, who spend day after day knocking on doors, passing out flyers and endlessly repeating stump speeches. They are hard on us in the media, with partisans of one candidate or another shouting allegations of bias — allegations often made without proof, or even a basic understanding of the term.

And, of course, they are hard on the public, members of which can hardly be blamed for casting a jaundiced eye at the pat answers, political maneuvering and mudslinging.

In Glendale’s most recent election, politicos and journalists — two groups who seem to agree on little — engaged in a bit of mutual handwringing. Election rules, put in place in 2008, limit contributions to candidates to $1,000. Conventional wisdom held that those rules, combined with the weak economy, would severely tamp down the ability of candidates to distinguish themselves — or extinguish their opponents. This, in turn, would result in a low turnout.

It didn’t happen. Turnout was on par with previous elections, and several candidates were still able to run brutal, scorched-earth campaigns with limited financing.

Voters reelected Nayiri Nahabedian and Mary Boger to the Glendale Unified School Governing Board and passed Measure S, the $270-million school bond.

But the results for two hotly contested seats on the Glendale City Council have yet to be determined. A mere 162 votes separate the top vote-getter, Rafi Manoukian, and Councilman John Drayman, currently in third place. Councilman Dave Weaver sits precariously in second place — 27 votes ahead of Drayman. Approximately 3,000 provisional and vote-by-mail ballots, which should nail down the final results, should be counted by the end of the week.

While we await the election results in Glendale, we can look west. The deadline for Burbank’s election is Tuesday, April 12, with voters there choosing between Bob Frutos and Emily Gabel-Luddy for the last open seat on the Burbank City Council. Voters also will be asked to vote on a utility tax ordinance, Measure U.

Burbank does things a bit differently. First, it has both a primary and a general election. Second, all voting is done by mail. And third, contributions are limited to $250 per candidate, per election.

In the February primary, all three incumbents for the Burbank Unified Governing Board — Ted Bunch, Dave Kemp and Roberta Reynolds – were reelected, as was incumbent Councilman Gary Bric. Turnout, which hovered at just above 14%, was the lowest since mail-in balloting began in 2005, and the lowest in a decade.

Now, was this due to a lack of hot-button issues, too-low contribution limits, or something else? This paper’s editorial board has called for more candidate forums — Burbank had just one such forum, while Glendale had more than a dozen. At the very least, such forums would continually remind residents there is an election, and awareness should boost turnout.

I am not fond of the mail-in balloting system. The lack of a true “Election Day” suppresses interest, excitement and, to my mind, turnout.

And finally, though I agree with the spirit of the campaign contribution limits, I believe Burbank’s leaders need to be watchful of the implications. I live in Burbank, and my mailbox has been stuffed with mailers — mostly attacking Gabel-Luddy. These were not paid for by her opponent, but by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18. The IBEW clearly has the right to do this, but such mailers rise to a higher level of prominence when candidates are limited in their own fundraising.

In any event, I want to urge all Burbank residents to get out and vote. Remember, your ballot must be received by the city by Tuesday, not merely postmarked by Tuesday. If you still have a ballot, you should drop it off at City Hall, the Buena Vista Library or a handful of other places. That information is on the city’s website, www.ci.burbank.ca.us.

As it is everywhere in our region, the city faces real challenges. A high turnout will serve as a mandate for whoever emerges victorious.

And for all of you in Glendale, stay tuned. This election has gone into overtime.

DAN EVANS is the editor. Reach him at dan.evans@latimes.com
 
 

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