Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Sample ballots have just a sample of what voters need to know

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When you crack open your sample ballot booklet to read about candidates running in the June 3 primary, be aware that you're getting only a part of the picture. Fewer than one in five candidates chose to pay to have their biographical campaign statements published in the L.A. county version of the booklets.

Kristie Holmes, a Democrat running in the crowded 33rd Congressional District to replace retiring Congressman Henry Waxman, was stunned to realize it would cost more than $18,000 to place a 200-word statement in the sample ballot booklet in both English and Spanish.  She blogged about her decision to forego the candidate statement.

RELATED: KPCC's MyBallot: Voters guide for the 2014 primary elections

The Los Angeles County Registrar/Recorder-Clerk will finish mailing some 4.8 million booklets to registered voters this week.

Here are some little-known factoids about the L.A. County sample ballot in this run-up to the primary, according to the Registrar/Recorder Clerk's office.

  • Each sample ballot booklet costs the county about a 53 cents to create, print and mail to your home this primary — about $2.28 million. The 2012 primary sample ballot cost twice as much because the county prints separate versions for each of the different political parties in presidential election years.
  • The county will print 5.3 million booklets,  and mail about 4.8 million to voters registered in the June 3 primary. The extras are to hand out to newly registered voters or those who request duplicates. They are made of newsprint and soy ink.
  • Merrill Corporation in La Mirada uses at least 330,000 pounds of recycled paper (which has 30 percent post-consumer waste) to print sample ballot booklets under its county contract. That's the weight of two empty Space Shuttle orbiters.
  • It's a complicated task to print and mail sample ballots to individual voters. There are nearly 300 different versions of the county sample ballot in this primary election, one for every unique combination of federal, state and local district lines.
  • You can opt to receive the sample ballot booklet by email. But if you give the Registrar your email address, it gets sold to campaigns and campaign data vendors, who also get your home address, phone number and party affiliation. The deadline to opt out of receiving a paper sample ballot booklet has already passed for this election.
  • It costs about $80,000 for countywide candidates, such as for sheriff, to place a statement in the sample ballot, about $8,000 for a congressional district. Double that if the candidate wants the statement in both English and Spanish in the English-version sample ballot.
  • Candidate statements in English are translated at no added cost into nine other languages and included in sample ballots sent to some 206,000 voters who request their voter materials in those languages. About 137,000 of those voters request sample ballots in Spanish.
  •  You cannot rely on the sample ballot's candidate statements to tell you basic facts about all the people running in a race because four out of five candidates countywide don't pay to include a statement.
  • Experienced campaign managers differ on the value of the candidate statements. Take the competitive campaign for L.A. County's 3rd District Supervisor in an area that includes parts of the Westside and San Fernando Valley. Sheila Kuehl's campaign consultant Parke Skelton said few voters read candidate statements and called the $37,600 cost of the 200-word statement "exhorbitant."   Bobby Shriver's consultant Bill Carrick said running the candidate statement in both English and Spanish made sense to reach the maximum number of voters in a district with a significant number of Spanish speakers.
  • The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder is working to develop a system that would give all candidates free or low-cost access to place their statements online and links for voters to do their own additional online searches. It is expected to be ready by next year.

RELATED: GIFs and photos from inside LA County's ballot printer, on KPCC's AudioVision blog.

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