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Oceanside doesn’t have a primary election system and doesn’t have rules requiring any one of its dozen candidates running for mayor in November to obtain a majority of the vote. That means the next mayor could be someone who seizes a relatively small percentage of the vote, so long as it’s a plurality.
Over the past few weeks, as I learned more about the electoral process in Oceanside and interviewed some of the mayoral candidates, I’ve wondered whether this has always been the case. Short answer: sorta.
Oceanside’s “winner take all” electoral process has been around for decades. From 1888 to 1968, the mayor was a rotating position among the City Council members. Then in 1968, the city began to elect a mayor as its own position, Oceanside City Clerk Zeb Navarro told me.
In 2012, Oceanside considered a ballot measure that would create a primary system. It failed with 16,600 of voters opposed and 12,546 in favor, Navarro said. Proposition F would have established in the city charter a primary with a November run-off election if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. It would have also established a primary and run-off election for special elections to fill a vacancy or for a recall election and at-large numbered seats as well, Navarro said.
In a commentary for the Union-Tribune in May 2012, former Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent Ken Noonan and Lani Lutar, president of the public affairs firm Responsible Solutions, urged voters to vote yes on Proposition F. They wrote that while the current process works when there are only two candidates, “it’s a problem when there are many, as is almost always the case in Oceanside elections. As a result of this process, candidates can win with only a small minority of support throughout the city — often around 20 or 30 percent.” The risk, they argued, was that an elected official would only be responsive to that same small group of interests, once in office.
For now, there aren’t any measures on the upcoming ballot to change how the mayor of Oceanside is elected. That said, Oceanside is in the process of transitioning from at-large elections to district seats that represent particular neighborhoods.