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San Diego To Consider Top-Two Primaries For All Elections

Photo by Nancee Lewis

People at the U.S. Grant watch as results come in, June 7, 2016.

San Diego voters could decide this fall on a proposal to do away with outright victories by candidates who win a majority of votes in primary elections.

The proposal by the Independent Voter Project would send the top two vote-getters to the November general election no matter what percentage they receive.

It was referred to the City Attorney's Office for further study on a 3-2 vote of the City Council's Rules Committee Wednesday. Findings will be presented to the full City Council, perhaps next month.

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Since it would amend the City Charter — San Diego's primary governing document — the procedural change would have to be made by the public in the November general election.

Jeff Marston of the Independent Voter Project said the system in which candidates who win at least 50 percent plus one vote don't have to move on to the general election was adopted by the city in 1989.

"The problem with this, as described to me by virtually every elections- related person I've spoken with, is that voter turnout in the general election is usually at least double that of the primary, and among minority groups and young people ages 18 to 24, the difference might be 3-to-1 or 5-to- 1," Marston said.

"Our bottom line is pretty simple and straightforward — that candidates running for office should be elected when the most people vote, not the fewest," Marston said.

Joe LaCava, former chairman of the San Diego Community Planners Committee, said residents who aren't political insiders think the primary election means "preliminary," without realizing that it could be final if a candidate receives more than half the vote.

In last week's primary election, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilmen Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman were reelected, and Councilman-elect Chris Ward won a race for an open seat. None of them will have to run again in November.

Councilman Mark Kersey, who along with colleague Chris Cate cast the dissenting committee votes, said the plan will make elections more expensive.

"I have never met a voter who thought campaigns should go longer — ever," Kersey said. "I have never met a voter who said would you please put more mail in my mailbox, more ads on my television or come knock on my door more times — ever.

"In fact, what I have (heard) is the opposite, voters who are quite happy that the city elections are done in June so that we'll not turn around and be bothering them again in November alongside the congressional, and presidential and state candidates," Kersey said.

Council President Sherri Lightner said races for which there are just one or two candidates could go straight to a November vote, bypassing the primary election.

The IVP suggestion was among more than a dozen ballot measures proposed to the committee by the public.

Only one other was passed along to the City Attorney for review. The proposal by the nonprofit Alliance San Diego would align local laws with state laws to maximize voter participation in elections.

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