When it comes to democracy in San Diego, there is a before and after Measure L, the landmark measure approved in 2016 that put an end to local election manipulation by the rich and connected.
Before Measure L, moneyed-interests spent decades election shopping and undermining our democracy by placing their privately created ballot measures in primary or special elections to take advantage of low voter turnout, which favors a wealthier, less diverse and more conservative electorate.
In fact, the average turnout in primary elections over the last ten years is 38 percent, compared to 70 percent in November elections. Even during presidential primaries, that meant well below half of the voters were deciding important ballot questions.
When voters overwhelmingly passed Measure L in 2016, they spoke loud and clear: the City Council should put privately created citizen initiatives on the November ballot. As the Measure L description stated in the ballot book, democracy functions best when the most people vote. In the end, two-thirds of voters agreed.
On Oct. 21, the City Council will decide whether or not to put a privately created ballot measure to expand the convention center and aid the homeless before voters in the March election, when the fewest people are expected to vote. This directly undermines our democracy and disregards the clear direction of voters in Measure L.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
In 2017, after Measure L was passed, the city council honored the will of the voters and rejected a special election for a similar measure. In rejecting the special election, Councilmember Chris Ward stated, “proponents have proven more committed to political games than actual solutions.”
Because the city council did the right thing then, voters decided on local ballot measures at the next regularly scheduled general election in November 2018. A majority of the voters turned out, as they usually do in November elections. The directive of Measure L was fulfilled. The big decisions facing the city were made by a majority of the voters. That’s how a democracy should work. This should be life after Measure L.
Now moneyed-interests want to take us back to life before Measure L. They have not given up on their election shopping strategy. Even though they could have qualified their measure for the November 2018 election and conformed with the voters’ directive in Measure L, they did not. Their delay qualified them for the November 2020 election, but now they want the City Council to put them on an early election that favors them, which is the very definition of election shopping.
In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, City Council members should be working for us, the voters, not against us. They should be looking to the future, not the past. They should be placing privately created ballot measures on the November election.
It’s what the voters wanted. Will the council members respect the will of the voters?
We’ll soon find out.
David Miles is a board member of Alliance San Diego, a community empowerment organization.