Photo by bored-now/Flickr
Photo by bored-now/Flickr

A pair of proposals that would make fundamental changes to San Diego’s elections procedures were placed on the fall ballot Tuesday by the City Council.

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.

The issues will go before voters since they would amend the City Charter — San Diego’s primary governing document.

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

“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,” council President Sherri Lightner said. “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.

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?” Cate asked. “… 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?”

Councilman Mark Kersey said the main problem was voter apathy in the primary season, 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.

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.

–City News Service