The on going discussion at the city council over election timing seem to have our leadership stymied. The law CVPRA (California Voter Protection Rights Act) clearly states the requirement that local elections must be moved to statewide election years. It also puts on pressure by specifying that the change in elections be implemented in 2018, or with a plan 2022 at the latest.
The rub for our local elected is three fold:
- We’ve got a ward 7 seat open that needs filling. It will be filled by city council interview soon we hope. Once a citizen is selected to serve, they’ll have the chance to run for the office when at the next ward 7 council election comes around. Because we need to implement the CVPRA the next ward 7 election is a little in flux right now.
- The change in election timing creates the need to either lengthen or shorten council seat terms in order to conform to the timing required by law. No councilman wants to shorten their term, that’s not why they ran for office. Each of six sitting council members has a desire to serve the community and shortening the terms runs a little contrary to that idea.
- Changing the election cycle requires a city charter change. Charter changes must be put to a vote. The problem here is state law supersedes the city charter; we don’t have a choice in this matter. Our election cycle must be changed by January 1st 2018, or we must have a plan in place to make that change by 2020.
Clearly the council faces a trident of competing wants, needs, and requirements. This is a situation that takes some out of the box thinking. To that, I propose:
- The city council appoint a citizen to the ward 7 council seat right away. For now, it looks like they do that on Monday, September 18th.
- Schedule a special election on June 5th, 2018. This is the date of California Gubernatorial Primary Election. In our special election put two things on the ballot:
- Ward 7 council seat. The term for the ward 7 seat would be four years plus 5 months.
- Present the election timing change to the electorate of the city of Riverside. Give two options which should be thoroughly discussed. The outcome will be to change the city charter based on the voter’s choice of outcome.
This proposal puts the choice of ward 7 council seat back to the voters at a time when the turnout will be high, a statewide election date.
The change in election timing is more nuanced than the simple election of a council seat. For that I suggest the following: put the voters in charge of the election cycle, but make the ballot choices in conformance with the law. This allows the charter change to conform to need for voter approval, which is a good thing, and also brings the city into conformance with state law.
Place all seven council seats on the ballot at the same time on even years and implement this change in 2018. Placing all seven seat up for election will create incredible levels of voter interest and engagement in the election. Imagine an election that can matter city-wide! I realize that this might cause the current council members some heartache with the need to run for reelection again so soon. Every seat would have a shortened term in this scenario. Wards 2, 4, and 6 would be cut to a one year term and wards 1, 3, & 5 would have three year terms. Ward 7 would have a five month first term. I’m sorry for this pain, but the CVPRA and the interest of Riverside voters comes first.