SLO County clerk’s hidden poll tax

November 16, 2021

Stew Jenkins


The evil of the poll tax was that it stifled a voter’s ability to vote. The SLO County clerk’s practice of overcharging school districts to subsidize the county in an election the clerk is already conducting for federal, state and county office is a just such a poll tax. It represses voter control of the most basic local school that teaches and protects their children and grandchildren.

The tragic death  of Lucia Mar Unified School District Trustee Vern Dahl’s left a vacant board seat. On Nov. 3, The Tribune reported that San Luis Obispo County clerk told the Lucia Mar Board that to put the vacant seat on the upcoming June 7 Primary Ballot, the county clerk would charge their district $350,000.

On Nov. 11, the Paso Robles Daily News reported that the San Luis Obispo County clerk told the board of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District that to fill a vacancy at the June 7 election, the clerk would charge the Paso Robles District $200,000.

This reveals the gross overcharges levied against school districts to subsidize the clerk for conducting the June 7 primary she is already conducting for federal offices (Senator and Congress person), state offices (from governor to Assembly member) and county offices (from sheriff to supervisor).

More and more local school boards, city councils, and community services district boards respond to these exorbitant charges for the county clerk’s election services by finding ways to avoid elections, suppressing voter control.

The reason school districts vote to consolidate their elections with the state-wide June primary, or a state-wide November general election, is to save money needed for  teachers, books, athletics and after school programs.

For decades, great county clerks like A. E. Mallagh, Ruth Warnken, and Misbeth Wollam understood that only the marginal cost to add school district candidates to a ballot already being printed for county elections should be charged. The same was true for city and community services district elections. County clerks encouraged voter participation and control at those levels closest to the voter as part of their basic social compact with voters.

It is self-evident that adding a few school district candidates to ballots already being printed for the election of U.S. senator and governor only produces a slightly longer piece of paper. County cost is nominal.

The same machine at the courthouse counts the school district election vote at the very same time it counts the vote for senator and county supervisor. No county cost is added.

A $350,000 charge to Lucia Mar or a $200,000 charge to Paso Robles School Districts by the county clerk is indefensible.

The clerk’s huge bills misappropriate money school districts need for teachers, programs and athletics. Overcharging for election services suppresses every school board’s willingness to hold elections for voters to fill vacant seats.

This fleecing of cities suppresses every city council’s willingness to hold an election to fill a vacant seat like the one created when Heidi Harmon suddenly quit. In 2020, no challengers filed against incumbent Arroyo Grande City Council members because they were told the city could not afford the county clerk’s cost for a city election.

This clerk’s poll tax strips voters of control of the local governments that teach their children, keep their streets paved, provide ambulances, fight fires and determine the quality of their lives. It stifles democracy.

It is time to end the county clerk’s poll tax on schools, cities and local  district. As SLO County Clerk-Recorder, I will work to end it.


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Darrell Queen

Stew for County Clerk 2022.

Jorge Estrada

This is why this job is a elected position, a promotion to this job would likely sustain such waste.


Thank you for this valuable information.