Sure Your Vote Counts
By Ann K. Williams
October 15 -- From neighborhood elections to mail-in
ballots and weekend voting, Santa Monica’s City Clerk has
seen it all.
That’s probably why Maria Stewart seems so unflappable,
even easy-going, despite expected record turnouts in November’s
election. After 13 years on the job and nine local elections under
her belt, she’s had plenty of practice.
For the past few months, Stewart’s been gearing up for Election
Day – updating the City’s web site, prepping candidates
and making sure voters have the data necessary to find their polling
places and make informed decisions.
On November 4, Stewart and her staff will join county workers
to canvass local polling sites, making sure everything’s
running smoothly. They’re also working with the County now
to find scarce polling sites and workers to staff them.
“We actually go on the streets and knock on doors,”
Stewart says, typifying the can-do attitude of her office.
Managing elections is just one of the duties of her 12-member
staff, who also compile and prepare stacks of materials for each
City Council meeting – meetings Stewart attends and summarizes
in the official minutes.
She’s also responsible for keeping the City’s legislative
records and scores of other documents.
But that’s not all. Her office also doubles as a mailroom
and a print shop, and her staff helps City customers by answering
questions and pointing them in the right direction.
When the council took a break in August, Stewart’s office
reviewed candidates’ filing papers and updated the City
“We’re really proud of our website because we have
it completely up to date with everything that’s going to
be on the election,” Stewart says.
It has everything from a “So You Want To Run For Office”
pdf file to campaign finance disclosure statements, voter registration
information and links to the County Registrar of Voters.
Like most elections, this year’s will be relatively inexpensive
and easy for the City.
“The actual work for the election is mostly done by LA County,”
But her office has gone it alone in the past, pioneering a weekend
election designed to increase voter turnout, as well as an all-mail
“I think an effort to try to find what will make the voters
come out is worth a try,” Stewart says.
“But then you have to balance the cost of doing that versus
the cost of joining up with the county,” she says. “You
have a much lower cost than if you do it yourself.”
Stewart also organizes smaller-scale elections, such as last spring’s
Property Based Assessment District (PBAD) election. In that election,
only 230 property owners cast ballots.
“PBAD, it’s a little bit different type of election,”
Stewart explains. “There are similar elections.
“For example, a neighborhood can choose to have new streetlights
installed. They can petition the city and if they meet certain
criteria then there’s an election.
“Well this is kind of the same thing except it was a business
district,” Stewart adds.
Stewart has worked in local government offices since she was a
“I kind of stumbled into the position,” Stewart says,
when asked how she became City Clerk. Her answer belies the steady
progress that has marked her career.
When her first son was born, she moved to Pasadena to avoid a
long commute. Landing a job in the Pasadena City Attorney’s
office as a legal secretary, she rose through the ranks to become
an office manager, an assistant city clerk and finally City Clerk.
She was hired on as Santa Monica City Clerk 13 years ago, and
has been running that office like clockwork ever since.
In her spare time, Stewart works out at the gym and is an avid
reader – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love In the
Time of Cholera” is her favorite book.
But from May through November, her time is pretty much spoken
for. Right now, Stewart’s office is putting the finishing
touches on the voter information pamphlet and sample ballot to
be mailed out to Santa Monica’s registered voters.
The ballot will contain not only Presidential nominees and State
initiatives, but also local races for City Council, Rent Control
Board, School Board and College Board, as well as three local
Stewart’s advice to voters?
“Go to the website and read up on the information that’s
there,” she says. Then, when you get your pamphlet, read
If you still need help, Stewart encourages voters to call her
office with their “questions, complaints and anything that
arises out of the election between now and November.”
For more election information visit www.SMgov.net
or call (310) 458-8211.