Earlier primary could add $1 million in costs 

The county elections division could be on the hook for millions in additional costs if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to move the presidential primary to February goes ahead.

Moving the primary from its current June date — which coincides with local primaries — would force the county to hold at least four elections in 2008. That could cost roughly an additional $1 million, twice what it cost the county to put multiple propositions from the governor to a vote in a 2005 special election.

Despite the cost, the governor’s plan has some local support.

"We’re the most populous state in the union and we have not had a voice in the past because [our primary is] just too late," county Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

President of the California League of Women Voters Jacqueline Jacobberger said the idea also raises questions about whether four elections in one year could cause voter fatigue and lead to lower turnout.

San Mateo County would be one of at least 21 California counties to hold four elections within twelve months, according to elections officials. Moving the primary to February could cost as much as $90 million statewide, officials said.

State Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, agreed a February primary would give Californians a bigger voice in an important election.

As for the additional cost, it’s likely that the initial charges would be borne by the counties, but repaid by the state as occurred with the governor’s special election, Mullin said.

But it took a year for counties to actually receive that money, San Mateo County Elections Manager David Tom said.

The February primary pitch likely won’t go through alone, according to Mullin. Instead, language requiring election redistricting and extended term limits for legislators would also be part of any bill, he said.

In addition to a February primary, the San Mateo County elections division already has school district elections scheduled for March and May. A countywide election is scheduled for November, and two cities are weighing whether to take tax or bond measures to voters in June, Tom said. Pulling off four, let alone five, elections in 12 months could push elections workers to their limits, Tom said.

In spite of a previous move that changed California’s primary to March in 1996 and 2000 that was ultimately reversed, state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, said he believed that February could make California "pivotal" in determining who will be president of the United States.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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