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Measures K And L: San Diego's Biggest Election Reform Since Redistricting

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October 12, 2016 1:18 p.m.

Measures K And L: San Diego's Biggest Election Reform Since Redistricting

GUEST:

Brian Adams, political science professor, San Diego State University

Related Story: Measures K And L: San Diego's Biggest Election Reform Since Redistricting

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Two measures on the November ballot which change the election rules, measure K and measure L our attempts to shift power from the city's June election which have lower voter turnout to the November general elections in turnout is larger. Metro reporter Andrew Bowen break that down.
On June 7 voters cast ballots in what is referred to as the primary elections. They were primaries for state and federal office. For the city of San Diego, the word primary is misleading. The city's election rules allow candidates to win out right into, if they get more than 50% of the vote. Naeher Kevin Faulconer 150% of the vote in June, which is why his name won't appear on ballots next month. His races settle.
We are here to talk about measures K and L.
Sherri Lightner spoke at a recent press conference in support of the measures. She supports changing the rules to force November runoff between all of the top two vote getters in June, regardless of how many votes they get. That's measure K. Measure L would require most referenda and initiatives to be voted on in November, not in June. Leitner says the routinely higher turnout in November will translate to a more responsive City Hall.
Voting yes will make sure the most important decisions in our city are made in the greatest number of voters vote. That's why I'm strongly supporting these measures.
Historically, turnout in November has been much higher than June, sometimes more than double. City Councilman Todd Gloria says measures K and L are about improving democracy.
The people are saying, we want the elections to be more democratic, to have more folks at the table. That we align and that the government and state do it that way.
The measures are supported by the County Democratic party. It's noteworthy, Democrats have typically fared better in November than June. Both measures are opposed by the County Republican Party, the Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups.
Folks should vote against measure K, this is been a rushed process.
City Councilman Chris Cate is leading the opposition. He acknowledges these measures got placed on the ballot fair and square by a majority vote. He says, when it comes to something as fundamental as city elections, these ideas need more discussion.
The fear that I had is confusing voters, telling them when they can vote on something and when they cannot this could change our electoral process. There are issues with that, they are doing it in an open and constructive manners.
He says is not opposed to reforming election laws to give more power to November elections. A better way could be ranked choice voting, which is used in some California City's. Under rank choice there is no need for June primary, voters can rank their candidates by preference on one ballot. If one candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice votes, that candidate wins. If not, the city starts counting second and third choice votes until one candidate gets a majority.
If this is not the best and final process, we should have discussed how to get there.
Why should just a few voters make decisions that affect us all?
The official yes on K and L campaign has raised more than forge $1000 and it's already spending it. The no campaign has raised half of that with a month left before the election and more than two dozen state and local ballot measures competing for attention, the time to win votes is running out. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news.
Joining me now is Brian Adams the local science professor at San Diego state. If measure K is approved, all races would go to a November runoff. Our municipal elections generally conducted across California?
Most cities run at the way San Diego currently runs it. Chula Vista moved to mandatory runoff system a few years ago. Most cities with district elections will do it where you have a primary election and if -- you only have a runoff if no candidate receives a majority.
We would make this change and most cities would still have primaries in June.
We would be unique in California. The state of Washington, all of their cities do mandatory runoffs. It would not be washed -- nationwide.
Supporters say the current system confuses voters, the June primary implies there will be a runoff, when in fact a candidate has the potential to win outright. Is there any evidence to support the idea that voters are actually confused by that word, primary, and that's why they don't turn out to vote?
I'm not seeing evidence one way or the other. It certainly is true you get lower turnout at the primary elections. Voters are much more likely to vote in general elections, even if those are less competitive than the primary. It is plausible, I've just not seen any actual evidence.
Do we know why June primaries statistically is a lower turnout?
People vote symbolically, especially in the presidential election. The November election is for president and it has so much symbolic weight, there are many people who vote in the collection who don't follow politics. A lot of it has to do with primary elections not caring -- carrying the same are being seen as important as general elections.
In the debate over measure K we've heard talk about ranked choice voting. How does that work?
As a voter, you go into the ballot booth and you rank the order of the candidates in order of your preference. If the candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, then they get elected. If no candidate receives a majority, the last-place candidate gets dropped and the voters who gave their first-place vote to that candidate was dropped, their second-place votes get added to the remaining candidates. That happens until the remaining candidate receives 50% of the vote.
If you voted for the candidate who got dropped, but you voted in second place for the candidate that got the most votes, that candidate would get your second-place vote in his column.
Correct.
Do they actually do this anywhere?
Yes. San Francisco has been using it since 2000. Oakland and one other two's -- cities as well.
Governor Brown says it's too confusing. Do you agree?
The process of voting is an confusing. All you do as a voter, you say this is my first choice, second choice or third choice. What's confusing is the underlying logic. It's difficult to explain to many voters why we would do this in lieu of having a simple primary. You get a situation where a candidate receives a second most first-place votes, but once you start dropping candidates and adding their second-place votes to the remaining candidates, you can end up having a candidate who finished second among first-place votes winning the election. This has happened in Oakland. For many voters, they see it as being illegitimate. They don't understand the underlying logic and the legitimacy of the election. It's not so much the process is too confusing, there could be a cost if voters don't understand the process.
That's one choice we don't have to make this November. I've been speaking with Bryan Adams political science professor at San Diego State University.