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San Diegans To Vote On Changing City Election Rules

San Diegans To Vote On Changing City Election Rules

GUEST:

Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Transcript

A divided City Council approved the ballot measures. One would require all elections for city offices go to a November runoff. The other would mandate all citizens initiatives and referendums be decided in November elections.

A divided City Council voted Tuesday to put on the November ballot a pair of proposals that would make fundamental changes to San Diego's elections rules.

If the measures are approved, all elections for city offices would require a November runoff beginning in 2018, while citizens initiatives and referendums would be placed on the general election ballot.

Voters will decide the issues because they would amend the city charter, which acts as San Diego's constitution.

Currently, candidates for mayor, city attorney and City Council win outright in June elections if they receive more than half the vote. The proposal would require automatic runoffs between the top two vote-getters.

The decision to call for a public vote on the change passed on a pair of 5-4, party-line votes. Democrats frequently get a higher voter turnout in November, and they backed the measures.

"We should do everything we can as elected officials to ensure our citizenry feels empowered and have a voice in the city decisions that affect their daily lives," said Council President Sherri Lightner, a Democrat. "By ensuring that all city elections are decided in November, when the most numbers of voters cast ballots, we will take another step toward achieving that goal."

She called it "a huge public education problem" in that people assume the top candidates will move automatically to the general election, as happens at the state and federal levels.

“The simplest solution would be for all city candidate elections to be decided in November, as they are at the state and federal level," Lightner said. "This will avoid confusion among voters and will maximize voter participation in city elections.”

Republican Councilman Chris Cate said no other California city conducts its elections in the way that's being proposed. Cate said the best way to maximize voter participation would be to have a plurality system, in which everyone runs in November.

"If you're concerned about whether or not you have the ability to participate and have your voices heard, why would you want to limit yourselves to only hearing the candidates that make it through June? ... Those candidates who do run in June, don't you want to see them in November, and have the opportunity to vote on them in November?" Cate said.

Republican Councilman Mark Kersey said the main problem was voter apathy in the June elections, and that the proposed solution would be tremendously costly to the city and politicians who would have to run twice, no matter their winning margin in June.

"This particular thing in front of us today is poorly thought out," said Kersey, who won re-election in June by getting a majority of the vote. "It was rushed. And it is a waste of taxpayer money."

Regarding citizens initiatives and referendums, Lightner said the change would place major municipal issues before the most voters, and aligns the city with state procedures.

The City Council also placed before voters questions on whether San Diego High School can remain operating in Balboa Park when its lease expires, and whether to extend a funding stream in the City Charter for regional park projects.

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