State law tasks the Commission on State Mandates with determining whether new state laws or regulations affecting local governments create state-reimbursable mandates. Typically, the process for determining whether a law or regulation is a state-reimbursable mandate takes several years. State law further requires our office to analyze any new mandates identified by the commission as a part of our annual analysis of the state budget. In particular, state law directs our office to report on the annual state costs for new mandates and make recommendations to the Legislature as to whether the new mandates should be repealed, funded, suspended, or modified. Below, we discuss the Post Election Manual Tally mandate, which is the only newly identified state mandate since the 2015-16 Budget Act.
Voting System Requirements. For all federal elections, each polling place must have at least one voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities. Federal law defines a voting system as “the total combination of mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic equipment…that is used to define ballots, to cast and count ballots, to report or display election results and to produce and maintain any audit trail information.” State law authorizes counties to use any kind of voting system provided the Secretary of State approves of the voting system or the system’s use is specifically authorized by law.
Secretary of State Required Manual Tallies for Certain Elections in 2008. Coinciding with the 2008 presidential election, the Secretary of State adopted emergency regulations (Post Election Manual Tallies, California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Chapter 3, 2008) pertaining to elections conducted in whole or in part on voting systems. The regulations required election officials to conduct manual tallies in contests in which the margin of victory was very narrow. Particularly, counties were required to conduct manual tallies in ten percent of precincts for the affected contests. These emergency regulations were only in effect for the period coinciding with the 2008 presidential election.
Commission on State Mandates Determined Regulations Were State-Reimbursable Mandates. The commission determined that because federal law requires counties to use voting systems in federal elections, all counties would be subject to the manual tally regulations for close contests in 2008 (a presidential election year). As a result, the commission determined that the requirement to conduct manual tallies when using voting systems imposed a reimbursable state mandate. In 2015, the commission adopted a statewide cost estimate for these activities totaling $625,288. Reimbursable costs are limited to activities carried out during the 2008 election and therefore unlikely to result in future state reimbursable costs.
The Governor’s budget does not include funding for this mandate. As the regulations only applied to the period coinciding with the 2008 presidential election, the Governor’s budget makes no proposal to suspend, amend, or repeal the mandate.
Post Election Manual Tally Mandate Would Be Added to Backlog. Under the Governor’s proposal, county costs related to this mandate would be added to the existing backlog for mandate claims. Because the emergency regulations related to manual tallies are no longer in effect, the Legislature is not required to suspend or repeal the mandate to comply with Proposition 1A (2004) requirements described below.
State Required To Reimburse Local Government Mandates. Since 1979, the California Constitution has required the state to reimburse local governments for certain state-mandated programs. Historically, the state deferred many mandate reimbursements to cities, counties, and special districts. Proposition 1A (2004) required the state to either (1) appropriate funds in the budget bill to pay outstanding claims for a mandate, or (2) suspend or repeal the mandate. Proposition 1A also required the state to develop a plan for paying most outstanding mandate claims incurred prior to 2004-05.
Claims Preceding 2004-05 Paid, No Plan To Address Mandate Claims After 2004-05. As part of the 2014-15 Budget Act, the Legislature finished paying the pre-2004 mandate claims. While Proposition 1A did not require the state to develop a plan for paying mandate claims incurred after 2004-05, the state Constitution requires these claims be paid. Currently, the mandate backlog is roughly $1 billion. When the state pays down the backlog, the payments will not count toward Proposition 2 (2014) annual requirements for debt payments from the General Fund.