A minor kerfuffle over a deadline for candidate statements has brought to light some concerns about the San Mateo County Elections Office as the general election nears.
Among the paperwork local candidates often file with the Elections Office is a 200-word candidate statement. It costs countywide candidates about $5,000, which is justified as a way to cover the cost of mailing. Voters often rely on those statements to differentiate candidates they likely know very little about. It can be very revealing to read a candidate’s priorities in his or her own words; communication skills are important and the statements are one of the few ways in which voters get an unfiltered view of those skills.
Enter Shawn Mooney, a challenger who appears to have only a single interest in running for the San Mateo County Harbor District. He wants to add an abandoned pier in Foster City to an expanded San Francisco Bay ferry service. For that reason, he has thrown his hat into the ring for one of two seats open on the Harbor Commission. He is the only challenger among three incumbents seeking a full term. (Virginia Chang Kiraly has completed her two-year term and is now in search of one of these full terms. That spawned a separate, two-person race for her old seat. Confused? You are not alone.)
Mooney outlines his hopes for the ferry in his candidate statement, which is coming to a mailbox near you. The problem is that he filed it a full week after they were due. His statement is stamped Aug. 25. California Elections Code 13307 expressly says that the statements must be filed with nomination papers, which were due on Aug. 17.
Emails from election office staff first deny Mooney’s plea to file the statement late. Then, without saying why, staff sends him an email saying that management reviewed the issue and decided to waive the provisions of state law. One reason might be that they admit two candidates — Sabrina Brennan and Tom Mattusch — were allowed to file after the deadline as well due to “a miscommunication by our office staff.”
After our calls, Chief Elections Officer Mark Church sent the Review an email saying that the late candidate statements would be allowed and that a statutory 10-day review period, during which anyone can see the statements at the elections office, will end on Sept. 12. A day later, we received another email to say that candidate Brian Rogers also decided to file his statement late and now the review period was extended to Sept. 14.
None of which is Watergate, exactly. The interest of voters is best served by allowing candidates to make their pitch. The deadline is a secondary concern, in our opinion, but you would expect the elections office to know the rules and not to take more than a week to clarify something like this.
Elections are important. Where there is room for interpretation of the code, we think election officers ought to have some discretion in order to get more information to voters. Elections officials should be available and knowledgeable, otherwise the entire process is subject to question. That may be particularly true at a time when a certain presidential candidate is openly suggesting the fix is in.
— Clay Lambert
Editor's note: This version changes the characterization of Virginia Chang Kiraly's term. Her current term is simply ending; she is now seeking a full term on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission.