Calhoun, Zurita face off in Compton

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 5/25/2011, 5 p.m.

COMPTON, Calif.--Two-term Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun is facing a runoff election against the daughter of the woman who previously held the District 1 seat.

Calhoun will face-off against Janna Zurita, daughter of former Councilwoman Dolores Zurita, on June 7.

In the April 19 primary, Calhoun collected 1,305 votes in the crowded field of seven candidates. Zurita snagged a little less than half of that total with 615.

Because neither obtained the required 50 percent plus one votes, they will meet again. Compton elects its politicians in at-large voting. Consequently, all the city's 40,197 registered voters can go to the polls.

In the primary, 3,580 total ballots were cast; almost half of them (1,757) as vote-by-mail. While mailed-in votes don't always outnumber the polling-place tally, City Clerk Alita Godwin said the two usually run neck and neck.

This, and the fact that the city currently has 5,000 permanent vote-by-mail constituents, prompted her to broach the idea of an all-vote-by-mail election to the City Council.

In a charter city like Compton, this decision can be made by a vote of the Council rather than putting the question to voters.

In such a configuration, Godwin said she would retain one central polling place for those who preferred to vote in person, but the rest could vote by mail.

She also stressed that such a decision by the Council can be reversed.

In the last election, Godwin estimates she spent $20,000 on poll workers, and if vote-by-mail elections were approved, a good percentage of that expenditure could be saved. There would also be a savings on printing of voting materials.

Godwin said the idea is not to prevent people from voting but to instead follow a trend that already exists.

In fact, in the May 2009 statewide election, more than 62 percent of people in California voluntarily voted by mail.

However, there are mixed results, when people are required to vote by mail, according to a study sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Make Voting Work.

The study is called, "How Does Vote by Mail Affect Voters?"

A natural experiment examining individual-level turnout--which evaluated vote-by-mail in five of California's 58 counties across four elections from 2006 to 2008--found that at least four pieces of educational materials must be sent out to voters to apprise them of the new procedure.

However, the study found a downside to the mandatory mail-vote requirement is that participation by urban voters could potentially drop by 50 percent.