Last month, Clovis city council members approved an ordinance that will change the local Clovis election from every odd year in March to every even year in November to coincide with the general election.
This shift comes as a result of Senate Bill 415, which passed last year requiring that all cities with a low voter turnout—less than 25 percent of the turnout among city voters during statewide general elections—to merge their local election with the regular November election.
Clovis has held its local elections for city council and other offices in March since the early ‘90s. Prior to that, local elections were held in odd years in April. The March elections have always experienced low voter turnouts.
At a recent council meeting, Assistant City Manager John Holt presented a chart showing turnouts from the 1997 election to the present. The 1997 election had a voter turnout of 16 percent and while a couple years in the early 2000s saw an uptick in voter numbers, the most recent data from the 2015 election shows voter turnout for the local election at an all-time low of 15 percent participation.
Comparatively, the statewide general election has drawn a turnout of over 60 percent of Clovis voters over the last 19 years.
In order to maintain the March odd year election structure, Holt said the city would have to have a turnout of 45 percent at the local election—a turnout significantly larger than any the city has ever had, even during its peak election years.
“The March local election basically has a much lower turnout than the general municipal election. So, the state requires the city go to a November even year election structure and take action by the end of this calendar year in order to put a plan in place that requires that the first November even year the local election takes place will be in 2022,” Holt said.
The change will cut the next round of terms for councilmembers elected in 2019 and 2021 by five months.
“Going into the March 2019 election, seats three, four and five held by Bessinger, Flores and Whalen would normally have term run until March of 2023 but with the election in Nov. 2022, their term will be cut short by five months and be only 3.6 years,” Holt explained. “Then the last March odd year election will be March of 2021 and those offices, currently held by Ashbeck and Mouanoutoua and if they were re-elected, their term would normally run until March of 2025 under the current system. But, with the new election in Nov. 2024, it would cut their term short by five months as well. Then the Nov. 2024 election and on would be for four-year terms.”
Councilmembers were reluctant to approve the ordinance knowing it means the loss of some local control, but ultimately decided to approve the measure as it is now the law.
“In 2003 or 2004, we did a series of focus groups about off-year versus consolidated elections and did we have thousands of people come, no, but the citizens that came were quite supportive of just Clovis elections,” Councilmember Lynne Ashbeck said. “The theory then was, ‘If I care about Clovis, I will vote, if I don’t care and we stick it at the end of the federal and statewide elections then I’ll just vote for whoever because it doesn’t matter.’ We can go back and forth about that all day long but this law passed so it is what it is. This legislation takes away all that conversation at the local level. We did look at it and made a conscious decision to stay this way and the legislation takes away that local decision.”