Now, state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is proposing a bill that would allow counties and cities to conduct special elections entirely by mail.
Gonzalez said in special elections, the majority of voters cast ballots by mail, so it's a waste of money to keep polling stations staffed for 13 hours on Election Day.
"In the Senate 40 district, we had one polling place where only one person showed up to vote," she told KPBS Midday Edition. "So the cost per vote at the polling place is over $100, where the cost per vote for the mail in is less than $10."
She said in that election, the cost per voter who went to a polling place was $221.43, while each mail ballot cost $8.73.
In another recent special election to fill San Diego City Council District 4, voter turnout was just under 20 percent. And about two thirds of the people who did vote cast their ballots voted by mail. After that low turnout election, San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu suggested to KPBS that special elections be vote by mail.
Vu now supports Gonzalez's bill because it would save the county money. The San Diego City Clerk's office estimates that the two recent special elections for San Diego mayor cost the city more than $8 million. San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts also told KPBS the Board of Supervisors supports the idea.
Gonzalez was herself voted into office during a special election, but wants to change the voting process anyway. She says her bill, called "Voting Ought To be Easy Act,” or VOTE Act, would save money and increase voter turnout.
Under the bill, all registered voters would get a mail-in ballot with a stamp already on it for special elections. They could fill it out, drop it in a mailbox and then check online to make sure their ballot was received.
There would also be special polling places where voters could go on Election Day if they need help voting, Vu said.
Gonzalez said because there's still broad turnout during general elections and primaries, she's only proposing to move special elections to a vote-by-mail system.
Retired state Senator Gary Hart told KPBS in December that he's been working with State Senator Darrell Steinberg on a different solution to costly special elections. He wants a constitutional amendment that would give the governor the power to appoint people to empty legislature seats for the remainder of the term.
Gonzalez said she opposes that idea because "people don't want their choice taken from them."
The state legislature has not yet had a committee meeting on the VOTE Act, but Gonzalez said it's a bipartisan issue and she expects it will pass.