Democrats’ inability to get anyone to run for mayor has the leader of the region’s largest labor union agitating for a major change to elections in San Diego.

Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, says it is time to change the rule that allows a candidate to win outright in primary elections if he or she gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

“We must change the City Charter,” Kasparian tweeted Monday. He elaborated at length during a recent interview with me. Francine Busby, chair of the local Democratic Party, also weighed in similarly, noting that Chula Vista recently made a change to eliminate outright wins in primary elections.

City Councilman Todd Gloria made the point in a recent interview as well.

“The outcomes of some of these elections are not necessarily reflective of the community’s feelings,” Gloria said. “Obviously far more people are present for the general election than the primary.”

Gloria chose not to run for mayor in 2016 and will instead be pursuing a seat in the state Assembly. Kasparian has said that many of the high-profile Democrats who would like to be mayor are choosing not to run because they can’t see a route through the June primary even though they could compete well in November.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

“Through any polling, [Mayor Kevin] Faulconer can be beat in November. But it’s pretty difficult to beat him in June. And that’s why I think our city’s got to change the charter and align ourselves with the way they decide things at the state level,” Kasparian told me.

In the city of San Diego, the change would require an amendment to the City Charter, which voters would have to approve. The City Council has been going through a process to review the City Charter but it is not poised to put a bigger reform on the ballot.

It’s obvious what is motivating Kasparian. In June 2012, for example, Republican Scott Sherman barely got more than 50 percent of the vote in a hotly contested race in the district that includes Tierrasanta, San Carlos and Allied Gardens. The wave of Democratic victories that came in November that year suggest he would have struggled in the general election against his Democratic opponent.

But he didn’t have to worry about it. Kasparian says that’s disenfranchising.

The county has a similar rule. In 2014, incumbent District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, facing a well-funded and energized rival, was able to secure more than 50 percent in the primary and win outright without having to run again in November. It’s the same way in Orange County.

For almost all state elected office positions, however, the top-two vote-getters move on to a runoff no matter how much the lead candidate receives in the primary.

Kasparian’s coaltion spent more than $4 million opposing Faulconer’s election and supporting Councilman David Alvarez in his mayoral run. Labor or another group of interests could try to put together a signature campaign and ballot initiative to change the City Charter. It would seemingly have a big, long-term benefit for left-of-center candidates.

And Republicans and right-of-center business groups would likely oppose it.

“Seems like a sad excuse for poor performance at the ballot box,” said Ryan Clumpner, executive director of the Lincoln Club of San Diego, a business-friendly political action committee that supports Faulconer. Clumpner says such a movement wouldn’t worry him because his candidates can compete in big runoff elections.

“What I find troubling is the idea that we need to maximize participation from people who don’t care enough about local issues to participate in standalone local elections,” Clumpner said.

Gloria says it’s a discussion the city should have.

“I just sort of see it as a bit of a head-scratcher. I say that as someone who benefited from it. My re-election was done in June. It was nice to not have that second election,” he said.

    This article relates to: Must Reads, Politics, Scott Lewis on Politics

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    29 comments
    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    “The outcomes of some of these elections are not necessarily reflective of the community’s feelings,” Gloria said. “Obviously far more people are present for the general election than the primary.”

    I'm with Todd. We must hold elections when it's most convenient for Democrats to vote.  Perhaps we can simply walk the ballots to their address of record, or, better yet, automatically enter a vote for the Democratic candidate--sort of like auto-renewal on a magazine subscription. 

    The added benefit of my plan is that it will limit the damage caused by Mickey Kasparian, the GOP stealth operative who's managed to lose just about every election of note for the Democratic Party over the past few years. (Excepting, of course, his notable success with Bob Filner.)

    ZachW
    ZachW subscriber

    What San Diego is doing with primary elections goes against the very definition of a PRIMARY election. I'd like to see a court rule on this. The definition and purpose of a primary election is to narrow the field for an upcoming general election, and having a primary election where someone wins outright does not fulfill this definition. It shouldn't be called a primary if someone can potentially win outright. That misleads and disenfranchises voters.

    Arizona Bread
    Arizona Bread subscriber

    Regarding disenfranchise…some readers are missing a difference between individual and institutional power and the way it plays-out. 

    Obviously, citizens are personally responsible for voting.  You either vote or not; have your say or not.  But you can’t vote if you don’t first have the opportunity to vote.

    What Ms. Soldaña is saying is that Republicans have put in place a process that deliberately reduces the opportunities for San Diegans to vote, because voting patterns indicate that reducing the opportunities increases the likelihood Republican candidates will win.

    Whenever one party has the power to remove opportunities to vote that party is limiting the freedom to choose in a system that exists to promote the freedom to choose.  If you don’t agree, let me know how you feel if football stadium boosters keep public funding from coming to a vote. 

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    So some voters vote every time, and others can only be bothered to vote once in a while.  

    The once in a while voters somehow have more rights or are smarter than the every time voters?  Is that what we are to believe?  The lazyness of some voters seems like a terrible reason to change the election rules to try and sync up elections days with the casual voter.  


    The casual voter is the one most likely to be unengaged, uninformed, and most easily swayed by false statements (even when they are proven to be wrong), or advertising blitzes.  I'm not sure we are well served when we have uninformed or unengaged voters making decisions for us.  

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Glenn Younger Do you have any proof that casual voters, when they vote, are less informed about the particular ballot items they choose to vote on than those who vote all the time?

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    @Derek Hofmann No specific proof.  If they are only voting once in while, they are for sure less engaged, and I'm extrapalating that to also include less informed.  I could be wrong. 


    Some evidence of casual voters being less informed voters would be the results of a couple of big turn out elections.  

    Bob Filner winning his mayoral election, winning big in traditionally low turnout neighborhoods. Dave Roberts winning with lots of first time voters.  These are not steller examples of choices made by educated voters.  





    ZachW
    ZachW subscriber

    Your reasoning is pretty poor. You begin by admitting you have no proof and end by suggesting voters should be telepathic in knowing which candidates will be embroiled in scandal? Nonsense. What about all the right wing "informed" voters who elected Randy "Duke" Cunningham or Roger Hedgecock?

    This doesn't have to do with informed versus non informed voters, it has to do with demographics. Many people skip primary elections because they are busy - you know things like work and school - and they assume a primary election is narrowing the field for a general,which is what a primary election SHOULD be doing. Republicans rely heavily on older, retired voters who have more time on their hands to vote in every election.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    @ZachW My reasoning applies to both parties.  So you are correct about the Replblicans.   Duke was a doozy.  

    Here is my reasoning regarding the 2 most recent and unfortunatly elected.  

    Informed voters knew that Bob Filner was an idiot and a masher.  He had a long history.  

    Informed voters knew that Dave Roberts had NO experiance in managing people and no experiance in running an office, so his failure should have come as no surprise.  

    Taxpayers lose when either party runs candidates who are idiots.  Informed voters are our only salvation.  

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    @ZachW By the way, as a voter who is becoming older, I have managed to both go to work and vote.  To use work and school as an excuse for not voting is a cop out.  Either people care enough to vote, or they do not.  The electoral system requires participation and with mail in ballots, that excuse holds no water.  

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Glenn Younger You and others are arguing apples & oranges. Changing to a top-two primary system won't bring "casual voters" out. The same voters will turn out whether or not the primary advances the top two or 50%+1 wins.

    Arguing about casual voters and primaries isn't the point. The point is to ensure that the top two candidates will advance to the general election when more voters generally turn out. The result would be far more representative of the citizenry at large.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    @Judith Swink @Glenn Younger Hi Judith, not sure were we get the idea that there need to be a "top 2" in the election.  I think that having a top two runoff is something that the 2 major parties like to have.  Democrocy can work with 1 or 5 candidates.  It is just harder for the big 2 political parties to control with there are more than two, and thus the reason they want to get down to two.  Just my opinion.  

    Jay Byrd
    Jay Byrd

    Perhaps a candidate that "can’t see a route through the June primary" should just stay home.  

    Scott Hasson
    Scott Hasson subscriber

    Taxpayers know that is Mickey the Bat Kasparian is supporting something, taxpayers will be taken.  Everything he touches turns to dust for taxpayers.  The Bat blames the primary in June on his loss for D7 in 2012.  How about looking at the quality of the candidate they put up against Scott Sherman.  Scott Sherman is a class act and he won because he was the best candidate, even if the Bat did not like it.

    Roger Cotton
    Roger Cotton

    Voters need to give a damn about voting and about the sanctity of the election process. If they choose to be ignorant about issues and their rights, that's their prerogative. I won't lose any sleep if they are disenfranchised or not.

    Institute Voter ID. Despite what Democrats claim, voter fraud occurs with too much frequency and ease.

    With the recent actions by the Obama Administration, and CA state officials, we see a concerted effort to get illegal aliens to vote.

    We know this, because quite a few people (Democrat officials) have been convicted of committing it.


    The attempt to change the Primary voting rules once again reflects how Democrats will change anything that works to something that benefits them.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Roger Cotton Which Democrat officials have been convicted of efforts to get illegal aliens to vote?

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    This "win in the primary" is a subtle and effective way to disenfranchise many voters.

    When I served on the Elections/Redistricting Committee in the Assembly, we saw many flagrant attempts to limit voter participation (e.g., Voter ID laws). These were often defeated in committee. But this local issue was never brought forward as something that could be managed at the state level, (since San Diego is Charter vs. contract city.)

    Of course, we also saw Schwarzenegger veto bills to allow broader voting, or for it to be simpler, e.g., allow teens who would be 18 by Election Day to pre-register. It's the Republican way: they would even state in committee they wanted the "right" voters, not "more" voters, to participate.

    Who is the "right" voter? It appears to be older, less diverse, less educated, and from rural vs urban districts. That's why in many states w/Voter ID laws, you can show a gun permit and vote, but not a state-issued student ID card from your campus...

    Ryan Clumpner
    Ryan Clumpner subscribermember

    @lorisaldana This moves the opposite direction of most large, progressive cities, who tend to think that they want their elections to have the attention and dialogue that only comes when you separate them from the chaos of national elections. 

    Also, it's disingenuous to refer to people's free choice not to participate in an election as "disenfranchisement." I'm sure people who have been actually disenfranchised would take offense to the notion that someone who had full access and simply didn't bother to vote in a June election was considered disenfranchised.

    We all agree every voter should have easy access to every election. I want every voter to participate in every election, as informed and engaged participants. 

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Perhaps what has you feeling so uneasy about these proposals is the fact that Faulconer is Mayor by virtue of winning two special elections with small turnouts- the first for his Council seat in 2006, the next for Mayor in 2014.

    We can't discuss factors that generate or depress voter turnout without discussing special elections, privately funded efforts behind recent ballot measures, and the process for setting those election dates.

    Setting a date for Special elections around certain holidays has long been a popular tactic- in fact, it's how our current Mayor was first elected, in an early January election, after losing in the General Election the previous cycle. Likewise, it was a low turnout special election, this time in February, that earned him his current position.

    And if you are thinking of "large, progressive" cities like Los Angeles, which had less than 10% voter turnout in March this year- who's being disingenuous?

    On March 4 2015, the LATimes reported :

    "As of Wednesday morning, turnout was 8.6%, according to numbers from the City Clerk's office. That number will rise, possibly by several percentage points, as more absentee and provisional ballots are counted. So far, 157,577 ballots have been counted, and 43,814 remain uncounted." (see: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lowdrama-election-fueled-dismal-voter-turnout-in-la-20150304-story.html)

    The concept of generating "informed and engaged" voters has become a bloodsport for the special interests, not an educational exercise. The more scared, outraged and/or angry people are, the more likely they are to vote in reactionary, thoughtless ways- and political ads use that emotional appeal to full effect.

    Standards about "truth in advertising" are nonexistent, since the content and accuracy of political ads are unregulated aspects of campaigning.

    Moreover, there's no downside to flagrant lies. Even those claims later shown to be grossly wrong and intentionally false (see: Barrio Logan Community Plan ballot measure) are typically not exposed until long after the election results are counted- but they don't change the outcomes or automatically generate recalls or rescissions.

    These are just a few examples of why relatively few people have such exaggerated influence on the election outcomes in San Diego and beyond.

    Ryan Clumpner
    Ryan Clumpner subscribermember

    @lorisaldana So what you're saying is that you will not consider elections to be fair until people you agree with always win.

    I'm saying that elections are fair when everyone has easy access to participation. Improving participation in said elections should be focused on increasing engagement rather than masking the underlying problem with a calendar change.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    @ryanclumpner I didn't say that at all. Did you read my comments, or just assume that was my point?

    But, rather than simply respond, why not share the steps organizations you've aligned yourself with (Lincoln Club, Chamber, various PACs) are taking, or have taken, to expand and encourage voter participation in San Diego and beyond for all voters, in all areas of San Diego?

    Do you conduct voter registration drives in low-turnout communities? Support bills to allow young people- especialy those who work and pay taxes- to pre-register to vote when they will turn 18 by election days? Advocate for measures that make voting easier for all people?

    My observation of the actions many of these "business friendly" groups have taken in past years is they do the opposite- discourage voters via special ballot measure elections, for example.

    But perhaps you can share about their efforts to make elections fair, with easy access, and increased engagement throughout San Diego.

    Ryan Clumpner
    Ryan Clumpner subscribermember

    @lorisaldana I'll address your demands of me in a longer piece for VOSD in the next week or so. 

    From the level of bitterness emanating from your comments, one could almost forget that the dem-labor coalition has controlled both houses of the legislature and the Gov's office for almost five years. Amazing you haven't crushed these evil businesses and solved all the state's problems by now. 

    Lori Kern
    Lori Kern subscriber

    @lorisaldana I saw absolutely no bitterness in your remarks. I did, however, see Mr. Clumpner's lack of understanding. I think republicans just don't get nuance.

    lorisaldana
    lorisaldana subscriber

    Look forward to your anwers to my questions. I don't consider them demands. Funny how tough questions are often dismissed with ad hominem remarks, and/or responses are delayed.

    This is your occupation, no? You should have this Information at your fingetips.

    I'm just a teacher, doing this in my spare time before class.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    The disenfranchisement is of the voters who do vote and whose candidate may achieve 49.9% of a vote, which candidate therefore does not advance to the general election.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    Lori's comment about setting special elections close to occasions which may depress voter turnout reminds me of how often I've experienced notice of availability of a draft EIR issued just before Thanksgiving or Christmas (especially the latter) thus reducing the true number of days (either 30 or 45 days) available to citizens for preparation of comments to be submitted.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    No, she's saying that it's far more fair to enable the top two candidates to advance to the general election. It's always possible that both candidates could be of the same political party.

    A change to top-two advancing will not change the election turnout for a primary or special election but will enable far more voters (those who DO turn out) to have a say in who they elect.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Wouldn't a ranked voting system allow all candidates to run in the general election while achieving the same goal as runoffs of preventing any candidate from winning with less than 50% of the votes?

    Jeffrey Davis
    Jeffrey Davis subscribermember

    Would be interesting to know how many San Diegans are aware how SD City and County "primary" races work. I'd guess that a large share (most?) don't know that they're not really primaries. Answer could be to teach those folks that they're wrong. Or better, align our elections with usual expectations.


    Also worth considering if major initiative decisions shouldn't typically be reserved for general ballots, and not appear on what are understood to be party primaries/preliminaries.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Jeffrey Davis I especially agree with your suggestion that initiative decisions (forget "major") should be reserved for general elections and not primaries or special elections.