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Report: State Still Short-Changing Counties for Election Costs

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 (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

California's state government should pick up the tab for more local election costs, according to a report released Thursday by the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

California's 58 counties currently shoulder the costs for federal and state elections, but don't receive reliable payments to cover those costs. Towns, cities and school districts typically reimburse counties for carrying out their local elections.

"The state has a clear interest in secure, timely, and uniform elections," the LAO report says. "While the state reaps regular benefits from county elections administration, it only sporadically provides funding to counties for election activities."

State law requires that counties provide services such as vote-by-mail, but in recent years the state has suspended the "mandate" around these services. That's allowed the state government to avoid reimbursing the counties for the costs, which the report estimates at around $30 million in general election years.

Without reimbursement, California's poorer counties have difficulty providing more robust services such as voter registration programs.

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"Counties that have more resources are able to provide more services to voters," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which works to improve the state election system. "Some of the smaller and more rural counties aren't able to provide those services."

The LAO report recommends the state give block grants to county governments, to help share the costs of putting on elections.

"Basing the grant amount on the number of registered voters could encourage counties to increase voter registration," the report finds.

The governor's January budget continued the suspension of reimbursing counties for election costs, and the Legislature is currently weighing whether to push for increased funding in the coming years.

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