Gaines moves on Senate bill to cut special-election costs

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, has introduced a bill that could cut the cost of special elections in smaller California counties. But the move – days after Gaines’ wife, Beth, said she would be a candidate in a special election for her husband’s old Assembly seat – is being criticized by another candidate as politically motivated. Gaines issued a statement Tuesday saying his Senate Bill 109 will “give counties with populations under 400,000 the option to hold solely vote-by-mail elections in situations where a special election is called.” Placer County, which would be eligible for the savings, has a population of about 330,000. Dennis Campanale, a Democrat from Roseville running for District 4 Assemblyman, said he can understand the reasoning behind the bill. “It’s a good idea to reduce the costs for an election,” Campanale said. But Campanale said Gaines’ announcement can also be seen as damage control in the face of criticism over Gaines’ role in the special election taking place and the presence of Gaines’ wife as a candidate to replace him. “He’s heard a lot of criticism about costs and he’s probably doing some damage control,” Campanale said. “This is like a pre-emptive strike.” Gaines is being blamed by the League of Placer County Taxpayers and others for causing the special election and ringing up $1.6 million in election costs. Wally Reemelin, president of the league, said earlier this week that Gaines could have run and kept his Assembly seat rather than run for both Senate and Assembly posts in November. With the Senate and Assembly wins, he was forced to step down from the Assembly post, setting up a special election. The Placer County elections division estimates the March 8 special election and probable May 3 runoff special election will each cost $800,000. Gaines’ bill has the support of El Dorado County Clerk-Recorder Bill Schultz, who said the average cost of an election in his county is about $300,000. “Should SB 109 become law, I estimate a savings of about $50,000 – and that is on the conservative side,” Schultz said. “It comes down to not just saving money but also avoiding the issues our smaller foothill communities face during elections held in winter months.” Schultz said transportation and delivery issues are negated when counties go to a vote-by-mail only ballot. Gaines said he had spoken to several county election officials who support the option to conduct all-mail ballot special elections. “My measure will lower the costs they face and streamline the special-election process,” Gaines said.