Heights approves transfer of city elections to county
By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
La Habra Heights officials requested approval to consolidate its city council elections with Los Angeles County, handing control of the polling places to county officials, City Manager Shauna Clark confirmed.
After a costly and contentious March election in the small town up in the hills, which saw big turnouts of 49.5 percent of registered voters and a vote re-count, officials at the May 14 city council meeting surmised the possibility of saving money and staff time by handing over the duties of its elections to Los Angeles County.
“It’s possible the city can save as much as $24,000,” Clark said, basing the estimate on what the county water district pays for its elections.
But Clark admitted to not knowing how much the city can actually save until city officials research it further.
Clark hopes to have an answer from the county before the June 11 council meeting.
If the proposal to the county looks acceptable, Clark said, council will be able to discuss and possibly vote on a preliminary proposal next meeting.
After an election with a re-count initiated by a Heights resident looking to boost the vote total for city council candidate Alex Villanueva and also a contentious Healthy City Initiative, which aimed to stop Matrix Oil from drilling up to 30 wells in a parcel of land in La Habra Heights, council members directed Clark to seek the consolidation with the county.
The March 2015 election cost the city about $184,000, according to the Whittier Daily News, with most of the cost being attributed to the Healthy City Initiative, or Measure A, and including it on the ballot.
“There may be some financial benefit, but there may also be some benefit to the staff and integrity of the city if an occasion comes where there’s a dispute about the outcome of an election,” Mayor Michael Higgins said about ceding control of the elections. “It would then fall into the jurisdiction of the county.”
If a dispute were to occur, as happened in the this past election, Los Angeles county takes on the responsibility of organizing any possible actions, including a re-count, while La Habra Heights will not be liable, Higgins explained.
The city manager stated that La Habra Heights has never consolidated its city council elections with the county.
But if the council chooses to merge, the first consolidated election will be November of 2017, changing the date of the election by eight months, possibly increasing Mayor Higgins and council member’s Brian Bergman and Kyle Miller’s term.
“Once we get all of the information at the next meeting, we’ll make a determination,” Higgins said.
Although La Habra Heights residents had a large voter turnout this past March, combining the county with the city elections could effect turnout.
“I believe the thought right now is that we’ll increase voter turnout because it will combine with other elections at the same time,” Higgins said. “ But we enjoy such a good voter turnout anyway that I’m not putting a lot of weight on that because our people come out and vote.”
Los Angeles County as a whole has been mired with low voter turnout, and the last election was the lowest ever for a non-primary election with only 25.2 percent of more than four million registered voters taking time to cast a ballot in the November 2014 cycle.