Some San Diegans could be headed to the polls twice early next year, costing the city far more than if the two impending special elections were handled in one fell swoop.

The city’s tab will depend on whether the special election to replace District 4 City Councilman Tony Young can be paired with the one to select a new District 40 state senator.

The timeline for both elections will be determined in coming weeks when Young and state Sen. Juan Vargas, who is headed to Congress, submit their resignations.

Young represents District 4, which comprises the city’s southeastern neighborhoods such as Paradise Hills, Encanto and Lomita Village. He will resign to lead the San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter of the American Red Cross. Vargas represents portions of City Council District 4 in the state Senate, including parts of Webster and Lincoln Park, as well as Imperial County and parts of both Riverside and San Diego counties.

But different rules govern special elections for San Diego and the state Senate — and that could affect the city’s bill by about $100,000.

That’s because the San Diego County Registrar of Voters is set to coordinate both races for local voters and the city will be hit with additional administrative costs if separate elections are required.

The Registrar told the city to expect a $355,000 to $385,000 bill for the District 4 race if the special elections can’t be combined. The city’s cost will go down if they can.

So why can’t San Diego and state officials just sit down and compare notes to save money?

The city’s charter requires the City Council to call a special election within 90 days of a council member’s resignation. The timeline can be extended to 180 days if a regular election is already on the books.

If Young resigns at the end of December, the city will have until the end of March to hold the special election. A less expensive runoff between the top two vote-getters could follow weeks later if there is not an outright winner in the first round of voting, meaning District 4 wouldn’t get a Council representative until late spring.

The special election to replace Vargas runs on a different timeline.

Gov. Jerry Brown has 14 days to call a special election after Vargas resigns but must wait at least 112 days to hold the election per state rules, a governor’s office spokesman said.

State law calls for a primary election eight weeks earlier, which would likely meet the city’s time constraints, but City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said her office doesn’t have enough details to determine whether the two dates could line up.

Still, District 40 voters could be without a state senator until the end of April if a candidate doesn’t win the primary outright.

And then there’s the fact that no one knows exactly when Young or Vargas will resign. Neither has committed to a specific date though Young has said he’ll serve through the end of the year and Vargas will be sworn into Congress on Jan. 3. Both the city and the governor’s office need formal notice of the officials’ resignations before they can make election plans.

“There are so many unknowns at this point,” Maland said.

Maland said she’s asked the City Attorney’s Office to research the issue.

A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office said the city’s lawyers hope to have answers soon.

“Obviously, if it’s permissible within the law, the city would like to hold both (special elections) on the same day and save the taxpayers some money,” spokesman Jonathan Heller said.

In the meantime, the city clerk is continuing to weigh election plans. A mail-in-only election could help the city save additional cash but Maland said research has shown that method could disenfranchise voters who have moved recently or whose first language isn’t English.

The City Council will ultimately sign off on when and how the election should be conducted.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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