San Diego election changes will give a voice to more votersPolitically Aware Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Commentary: Politically Aware
Last week, the City Council promised voters a chance to change the way elections are run and won in San Diego. By a 5-4 party line vote, Democrats advanced a ballot measure that would require a November run-off between the top candidates.
Conservatives have argued that the measure is simply a Democratic attempt to consolidate their power. I disagree. Democratic candidates may benefit, but the measure doesn’t consolidate power. It distributes power to more San Diego voters.
As it stands, candidates can win San Diego elections in June by winning a simple majority of the vote. In many cases, that has kept electoral power in the hands of fewer San Diegans.
The 2012 City Council elections are instructive. In District 1, current Council President Sherri Lightner (41.59 percent; 12,889 votes) lost the June primary to Ray Ellis (45.61 percent; 14,133 votes). In November, Lightner (54.96 percent; 31,585 votes) soundly defeated Ellis (45.04 percent 25,811 votes).
Looking inside the numbers, Lightner won more votes in November than the total cast in June, and she beat Ellis by more than seven times his primary vote margin. Yet if Ellis had netted just 1,361 more votes in June, nearly 30,000 additional November voters would have been silenced.
Over in District 7, Councilmember Scott Sherman got 50.17 percent of the June vote, securing his election with only 54 votes to spare. Had runner up Mat Kostrinsky made it to November and experienced the same proportional surge as Lightner, he would have won by over 2,000 votes. We can’t be sure what those 30,000 extra voters might have said, but the new rules would have given them a voice.
Yes, many of those November voters chose not to vote in June. We should be engaging them, not punishing them. America tried poll taxes and tests, and we know they are unfair and wrong. Penalizing people for not voting in June isn’t much better, especially when there will always be a November election for president or governor. The cost of additional local elections is a small price to pay for a more participatory democracy.
If anyone is out to consolidate power, it’s national Republicans. After taking control of numerous state governments in 2010, they have gone out of their way to block voter participation by shrinking voting hours, decreasing the number of polling sites, and passing voter ID laws to fix a non-existent fraud problem. The party that has so aggressively tried to export democracy should be more interested in expanding it at home.
Both parties try to protect their power, but how they do it differs. That matters. Democrats are trying to bring more people into the process. The fact that they may benefit doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.
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