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January 17
1994, 4:31 a.m. - Magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake rocks Santa Clarita Valley [video]
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Sen. Sharon Runner

I was elected to my current Senate term in a special election to replace Steve Knight after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interesting turn of events, I was the only candidate to appear on the ballot.

The circumstances of my election were unusual, but they were not unique, which is why I introduced legislation shortly after being sworn in to save taxpayer dollars when a special election proves to be unnecessary.

Under current law, when a legislator leaves office in the middle of a term, the governor has 14 days to declare a special election. Once the special election has been declared, it must be held. No one has the ability to cancel it, even if only one candidate is certified by the county registrar of voters to appear on the ballot.

Senate Bill 49 would allow the governor, at his or her discretion, to cancel a special election when only one candidate qualifies to appear on the ballot. This legislation would apply only in situations when the special election cannot be scheduled to coincide with a regular primary or general election and is therefore the only issue on the ballot.

Elections are a vital part of our democratic process, but it is not always necessary to spend taxpayer dollars on an election when a single name appears on the ballot. The cost of running elections continues to escalate and many counties are spending millions to conduct them.

California’s counties take on the entire cost of a special election without any funding help from the state or federal government, and expenses add up fast when these elections are called. Holding an election for a single candidate is a costly exercise that needlessly burdens counties across the state.

I was particularly troubled by the expense recently absorbed by the counties in the 21st Senate District; Los Angeles County spent $1.4 million while San Bernardino County spent $221,000.

Special elections, especially for positions in the state Legislature, are also happening quite frequently. According to the Secretary of State, since 2010 there have been 22 special elections for positions in either the state Assembly or state Senate. SB 49 provides worthwhile reform that will save our taxpayers money.

Since 1975, there have been three instances where a special election was conducted with only one candidate officially listed on the ballot. In each case, the candidate won with at least 94 percent of the vote. This particular situation might occur infrequently, but given the high number of special elections, a single-candidate primary is likely to occur again sooner rather than later.

SB 49 has a wide base of support, including the California State Association of Counties, the county of San Bernardino, county of Sacramento and the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. It is awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and it is my hope it will be signed into law before another special election is called.

 

Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, represents California’s 21st Senate District, which includes communities in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Victor valleys.

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