Thursday, April 17, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 6
Signup

Weekly Poll
What's your biggest local environmental concern?

Pollution
Endangered species
Drought
Other

Vote! | Poll Results

RSS Feeds

Latest News RSS
Current Issue RSS

Special Features
Delicious
Search or post Santa Barbara County food and wine establishments

Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on February 19th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 1

Every vote counts, every vote costs

How do you get songs out of your head? I need some help, because my brain has been like an iPod with only one song, stuck on endless repeat. Or maybe shuffle. But it’s still just one song.

I’m a regular victim of catchy music. I find myself whistling tunes for days at a time. The phenomenon is known as an “earworm,” which is a gross description of an annoying thing.

Think of it. An ear worm. Ew. Yuck. And this is coming from someone who’s actually eaten worms. But it makes sense. It burrows in and won’t leave, like something from your worst Star Trek-and-late-night-cold-pizza-induced nightmares.

The most recent culprit has been this: “’Cause this is Thriller! Thriller night … .”

I’m going to do my best to ignore Michael Jackson while I peck out my point, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

OK.

Forget for a moment that the city of Santa Maria has more than double the population of the city of San Luis Obispo, but has pretty much the exact same number of registered voters.

Well, no, don’t forget that, but put a pin in it or something. That’s a topic worthy of an entire column from me, but it’s not this week’s column. For now, I’m going to talk about election costs.

Well, no. Wait. Take that pin back out. I can’t help myself.

About 100,277 people live in Santa Maria, give or take any births or deaths that might have happened between when you started reading this sentence and now. Of those teeming masses, 26,916 have registered to vote. That’s roughly a quarter of the population.

The city of San Luis Obispo boasts a measly 45,525 residents, the majority of which are fairly smug and self satisfied. But 26,791 of them are also registered to vote. That’s more than half.

More than half. Compared to Santa Maria’s just more than a quarter.

Come on.

“You close your eyes, and hope that this is just imagination … .”

Based on some muttering folks in our office overheard, there were some questions floating around that had to do with how much a special election would cost in each of the two communities. Since Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo both had city council vacancies pop up in recent months, this question wasn’t so much theoretical as practical.

I started by trying to get some basic stats from the Santa Barbara County elections folks.

“Welcome to the Santa Barbara County registrar of voters office,” the friendly robot told me when I called.

I pressed “1” for English, then listened to my options, none of which seemed to be what I was looking for, so I took door No. 0 and aimed for the operator.

“Please wait while I transfer your call to,” the recording said before concluding in a slightly different voice, “a voter services representative.”

I heard ringing. I waited. Then someone answered.

“Welcome to the Santa Barbara County registrar of voters office,” a familiar friendly robot told me.

I figured that I had made some mistake, so I listened to the whole spiel again, noting that the recording encouraged people who still hadn’t found what they were looking for to stay on the line.

I stayed. And was transferred to “a voter services representative.”

Ring. Wait. Answer.

“Welcome to the Santa Barbara County registrar of voters office.”

“Welcome to the Santa Barbara County registrar of voters office.”

“Welcome to the Santa Barbara County registrar of voters office.”

Over and over!

“They will possess you, unless you change that number on your
dial ... .”

Frustrated and facing a count of felony phoneslaughter, I badgered my editor into making a few calls to San Luis Obispo County for me—and I cackled maniacally in anticipation of him getting caught in the same endless phone-tree loops I found myself trapped in when I tried to navigate the Santa Barbara County elections office.

Turns out actual humans answer the phones in SLO, and those humans are remarkably helpful.

“I’ll save you from the terror on the screen, I’ll make you see … .”

My editor reported to me that an outside firm had estimated a $65,000 price tag for a special election in SLO, though the county clerk-recorder’s office crunched its own numbers and found a range of $95,000 for a mail-in vote up to maybe $120,000 for a standard get-thee-to-a-polling-place election.

Northern Santa Barbara County media reports (OK, OK, I saw it in the Times) put the cost of a special election in Santa Maria at $200,000. As noted before, I couldn’t get that figure pinned down from the Santa Barbara County side, and neither could my editor when he started calling around. I figured that he did so well with the SLO side, he should be the one to tackle Santa Barbara County.

While he did get a voicemail response from a live person who said Santa Barbara County’s costs were comparable to SLO County’s, that message didn’t come with any specific numbers. So I’m left wondering whether an $80,000 gap due to a difference of 125 registered voters is considered “comparable” in Santa Barbara County, or whether the $200,000 figure I’ve seen thrown around in this area is the high-water mark.

“You’re outta time!”

Perhaps by my next deadline I’ll have a clearer picture of what’s behind the money matters, but in the meantime, I’m disheartened to know that—costs aside—so few people in Santa Maria realize voting is something worth doing.

Given the choice between dwelling on that depressing reality and letting my brain put Vincent Price rapping on repeat, I’ll choose “the evil of the Thriller.”

The Canary likes to compare apples and oranges. Contact her at canary@santamariasun.com.