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Making 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.

Maria Stewart

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 Clerk website.

“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,” Stewart explains.

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 election.

“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 teenager.

“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 initiatives.
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 it.

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 or call (310) 458-8211.

Ted Winterer for Santa Monica City Council

Dr. Margaret


Vote # 158


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