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Letter: Bravo for Alameda City Council Reducing Ballot Statement Fees

Alameda Post - a ballot box and a hand dropping a ballot into it
To the Editor:

The League of Women Voters of Alameda has been tracking campaign financing in local elections for many years. We monitor both the sources of donations and how the funds are used. The cost of running for office can be an obstacle which deters qualified candidates from participating in the contests. We believe that democracy prospers when civic minded individuals from all walks of life are able to express their views and compete to represent the people.

Candidates may write a ballot statement to be printed in the election materials that are mailed to all registered voters prior to every election. This is a particularly valuable source of information for voters—they can easily compare the candidates’ stated positions and priorities while making their choices. However, the costs of printing and distributing statements are charged by the election authorities to the jurisdiction for which the election is being conducted, e.g., cities, school boards and special districts. These costs for City Council and Mayoral elections in the City of Alameda have averaged about $4,000 per candidate. The City, like many other local government entities, has billed these costs to the candidates. Candidates who choose to submit a statement must pay a deposit of $100 at the time of filing and are billed for the balance after the election.

The cost of candidate ballot statements is the highest single expense most local candidates incur during their campaigns. It can be challenging for candidates to raise these funds from small individual donations. Those without support from special interests may find themselves responsible for paying the cost from personal funds. This can be a deterrent from filing the statement or from running for office at all.

We presented information highlighting this situation to the Mayor and asked her to consider making a referral to the City Council to address it. (Alameda Unified School District absorbs the cost of candidate statements for school board elections, while other local government agencies vary in their approach, from partial subsidies to requiring candidates to cover the full cost.)

On April 2, the City Council approved a change to its regulations so that candidates will need to pay a total of only $1,000 for the candidate ballot statement (the existing $100 deposit plus up to $900 after the election). The City is subsidizing the balance of the cost. The City Council felt that requiring candidates to pay part of the cost ensures that only committed candidates will apply.

We applaud this decision as a means of broadening participation in Alameda elections.

Anna Crane, President
League of Women Voters of Alameda

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