San Diego, Calif.- In the opaque world of politics, it’s often times difficult to get a clear, consistent message.
In San Diego, this relatively under-the-radar election reform has fundamentally changed San Diego’s political accountability, and in turn, representation.
In what started about three years ago with the drafting of San Diego City’s Measure K by the Independent Voter Project, both the city and now the county have removed the “50%+1” rule that insiders refer to as an “incumbent protection” provision. This rule allowed candidates to “win” the election outright in low-turnout June primaries.
Getting rid of the 50%+1 rule at the city level already had an impact this year, at the same time its countywide cousin was being approved by a substantial majority of county voters.
Measure D, the Full Voter Participation Act, passed with more than 62% of the vote.
Measure D amends the county charter to force races for all San Diego County offices to a runoff in the general election, regardless of the outcome in the primary. Under current law, candidates who receive more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary election are declared the winner.
County Follows City Lead
In 2016, City of San Diego voters passed Measures K and L with similar percentages.
Measure K aligned San Diego with the State of California’s election rules, using the same nonpartisan top-two runoff process to elect our mayor, city attorney and council members as we use to elect the Governor, state legislators, and members of Congress.
Alliance San Diego authored Measure L that ensured that citizen initiatives and referendums are voted on only in the November general election, when the most voters participate.
Essentially voters said, politicians are accountable to everyone, not just the special interests that have dominated small turnout elections like special and primary elections.
2019 Special Elections
The mandate is of particular importance when looking ahead to 2019.
The failure to have the convention center initiative on the November ballot has now led to loud chatter in political circles that a special election will be called early next year to remedy the loss of time. Indeed, there are voices who want the expansion so badly, they are willing to call it an “emergency.”
The 5th Avenue Landing development deal, proponents will say, is a time sensitive real estate transaction that needs to be heard as soon as possible.
If city hall moves on that plan, it will likely see significant resistance from not only the community, but also the courts, who would probably need to intervene and clarify the matter.
You may recall, the San Diego City Council did not cave to pressure from Mayor Faulconer to force a $5 million special election for SoccerCity, and we see how that turned out.
It will be interesting to see if the same holds true for the convention center battle.
Will a special election be called in 2019 or will the matter be put to voters on the 2020 November General election as laid out in Measure L?
Time will tell.
Podcast Midterm recap with UT Columnist Michael Smolens: