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Supervisors reject all-mail election, other measures to boost voter turnout 

Elections in San Luis Obispo County will look the same in 2020 as they did in 2018.

Following a recommendation from SLO County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, on Feb. 26, the SLO County Board of Supervisors opted against spending $406,120 to administer an all-mail election in 2020.

click to enlarge STATUS QUO SLO County supervisors (pictured) voted against allocating funds to administer an all-mail election in 2020. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • STATUS QUO SLO County supervisors (pictured) voted against allocating funds to administer an all-mail election in 2020.

In addition—and against Gong's recommendation—the board denied funding to the Clerk's Office to carry out other initiatives aimed at enhancing voter turnout in 2020.

The optional new election model, enshrined in 2016's California Senate Bill 450, is structured so that every voter receives a ballot in the mail, and it requires that 20 voting centers open 10 days prior to Election Day.

Advocates say that it makes voting more accessible to all income brackets and age groups. Skeptics, including Gong, say it's expensive, could confuse voters, and has yielded uncertain results thus far.

All five supervisors agreed on Feb. 26 that the model wasn't a wise choice for the 2020 elections—but they offered different reasons.

Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton flat-out opposed SB 450, arguing it risked "disenfranchising" voters who are accustomed to the old system. One consequence of SB 450 is that it reduces the total number of open polling locations by 74 percent.

"I am a poll voter," Compton said. "Maybe I'm a dinosaur, maybe I am old, but if you take that away, you're disenfranchising those voters."

First District Supervisor John Peschong acknowledged that California is "moving in the direction" of SB 450, but he thought it'd require more outreach and education. He cited statistics about the high percentage of middle-aged and senior voters in SLO County still going to the polls.

"Some 55 percent of the people using Election Day locations are 55 years of age," Peschong said. "I've met hundreds of people who say they don't trust the postal service. That, to me, is an education issue. The younger users will understand and assimilate faster."

Supervisors Adam Hill (3rd District) and Bruce Gibson (2nd District), who both supported SB 450, expressed disappointment in Gong for shying away from the model. But with the 2020 primary only a year away, the progressive supervisors agreed it was unwise to roll out a new system now.

"Nothing much has been done to try to advance the effort to move it forward for the 2020 election. Now, we're a year away from having to do it," Gibson said.

Hill criticized Gong and others' "accepting of a [voter] turnout that is satisfactory." He added that when voting in the U.S. was only a right of white property-owning males, "that was probably a much more convenient system to run."

"But that's not really the way we should look at the future. We should say, 'Hey we can do better,'" Hill said. "The thing that disappoints [me] was this kind of complacency and excuse making for something that's so essential."

The SB 450 election model had support from the SLO County Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters, whose representatives spoke during public comment at the meeting.

After rejecting SB 450, Supervisors Peschong, Arnold, and Compton also turned down a $163,441 proposal from Gong's office to open four satellite voting centers in 2020 in Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, and Cal Poly. Those would've opened on the weekend before Election Day, and assisted voters with replacement vote-by-mail ballots and registrations, among other services.

"I don't think we can spend that money right now," Peschong said. Δ

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