Labor leader Mickey Kasparian and Councilman Todd Gloria recently suggested that their preferred candidates would win more elections if we changed the City Charter to require that all elections automatically go to a November runoff, regardless of whether a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in June.
This change would be a dramatic departure from the election system used in San Diego for over 100 years and shared by almost all other major cities, including progressive strongholds.
Before we rush to change the rules to accommodate Kasparian and Gloria’s ambition, let’s take a moment to consider how the current system works, what other cities do and how this change might impact our local government.
Three distinctive features characterize our current system of local elections.
First, it’s nonpartisan. This makes it unique from state and federal elections. Party affiliation does not appear on the ballot and there is no “primary” to nominate a candidate from each party who then advance to a general election.
Second, there are two stages, a June election and a November runoff. This allows a crowded field to be narrowed, and at least part of the election to happen outside the chaos and noise of big gubernatorial and presidential elections. It also ensures that the winner receives a majority vote as opposed to a plurality.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Let's start by acknowledging that while Mr. Clumper notes that city elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, he represents a group that backs Republicans. He would not be protesting unless he thought Republicans would somehow be disadvantaged by the change. So much for nonpartisan.
Two things about the current system are wrong. First is that participation in the democratic process is already fairly weak. It is much weaker during the primary. That means less public engagement and ownership by the voters of decisions on who leads the community. That results to a sense of disenfranchisement. Certainly you can blame this on the voters who choose not to vote in the primary, but how many know the this may be a de facto runoff election? Few I think.
The second problem is the political games that are played to try to push the election to the fall. We end up with candidates sometimes put forth only to garner enough votes to ensure that someone else doesn't get 50% +1. Sometimes we have seen adherents of one party quietly supporting a candidate from the other party, not because they endorse the beliefs of that candidate, but because it will prevent an outright win in June. This is just another distortion of the democratic process.
Democracy works best when the maximum number of people participate and have a sense of ownership of the process, even when they are on the losing side.
The definition of a primary election is a preliminary election to choose candidates that will then proceed to a principal election. A lot people who don't follow politics closely might not even be aware that candidates can win outright since it's not consistent and since the media et al refer to these as "primaries". I wonder how many voters think, "oh this election isn't important, it's just a primary. I will wait and vote in the general." I know the counter-argument is that it's a voter's responsibility to be aware of the process, but it's also the government's job to make the process transparent, consistent, and not use false terms for things like calling a hybrid election a primary election. It's misleading and needs to be fixed!
To suggest that this system removed party influence from elections is idiotic. People still know which party the candidates belong to, like minded politically motivated groups still contribute to them, and local party bosses still endorse them.
San Digo city council races are nonpartisan? While that may be technically correct, it surely is not the reality in this town and to state that in this manner is extremely misleading. In just the last election, there was a lot of partisanship about electing Cate and Zapf to help Faulconer get more Republican votes on the council. I like the idea of a runoff election. Sometimes the strain of keeping up a false facade can't be sustained for an extended period of time and those extra months could be just what is needed for some folks to see the flaws they did not see at first.
This issue boils down to a fundamental question: Should our voting system be designed to give a voice to as many citizens as possible? Or should it be designed to prioritize the voices of the most motivated & diligent citizens?
If your priority is expanding democracy - rather than winning elections - I think the answer is pretty obvious.
It's hard to take a party seriously when their strategy for winning is keeping participation low.
No matter how you spin it, just as fewer tourists lead to lower off-season room rates, off-season elections lead to fewer voters.
Because of it, these elections reward the party with the most motivated voters, which in San Diego are Republicans. They result in candidates and measures gaining approval with a small number of voters.
We will witness this in January if a small number of rabid Chargers fans win public funding, in the depths of the off-season, for a stadium the majority of San Diegans don’t want.
@Arizona Bread Then those of us opposed have to do what voters in Chicago do, vote early and vote often.