Special elections set for Asssembly, Senate seats are costly, draw few voters

State Sen. Norma Torres won her race for the 32nd Senate District seat in May after a special election costing Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties $2.4 million. Photo from Feb. 16, 2012, before the election. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Governor Jerry Brown has called for special elections on Sept. 17 to choose replacements for two state legislators who recently won spots on the L-A City Council.

Voters will cast primary votes in the 45th Assembly District in the San Fernando Valley and the 26th Senate District race in Culver City and Ladera Heights. If a runoff is needed, the top two candidates will face off Nov. 19.

As state legislators leave office mid-term after winning seats in Congress, L-A City Council or other elective office, their spots are filled by primary and, if necessary, runoff elections. Already, a dozen special elections have been scheduled in 2013, the most in ten years, according to the Secretary of State's office.

The elections are a by-product of California's term limits that send politicians hopping from seat to seat.

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson says special elections are costly and draw few voters. "They tend to come not at the same time as other elections, turnout is lower, so it means you are getting a very small percentage of your electorate that is choosing your representative," she said.

San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties together spent $2.4 million putting on primary and general special elections to fill the 32nd Senate District  covering Pomona and western San Bernardino County.  Just 9 percent of voters cast ballots in the March primary,  only 10 percent voted in the general election two months later.

That breaks down to about $35 a vote. Add in the $16 per vote candidates spent, and you're looking at more than $50 per vote.

Former Assemblywoman Norma Torres won the senate race, so now her Pomona-area 52nd Assembly seat is open and will be filled by a special election. That primary is July 23rd.