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.
I found this card in our mail the other day. It announces a change in the election timing for the RUSD school board. In the past, we elected school board members on odd years. The last Trustee member election was November 3, 2015. In that election the school board member position that covers the University Neighborhood was in contention. It was contested by Patricia Lock Dawson and Sandra Ramirez. That was the only race on the ballot. The turnout for that election was 11.9%.
Most people aren’t that engaged in school board politics. It’s not just lack of engagement that leads to low turnout though. There is a basic scheduling problem with these odd-year elections. Often, we don’t even realize there is an election going on. The gubernatorial and presidential elections so dominate the news cycle that our little school board elections go completely unnoticed when they do finally come around. If you are busy like I am, you can easily make a decision to blow off voting; it’s only a school board election.
Changing the election schedule for local issues (bonds, referendums) and elected offices (school board, city council) to be at the same time as either the presidential or gubernatorial elections (November even years) will increase voter turnout. How much is to be seen. The 11.9% for Patricia and Sandra’s RUSD race will certainly be a thing of the past. Based on good research I would expect that voter turnouts will move to something between 40 and 70%.
Even more importantly, think about how larger turnout would impact the recently completed Riverside city council election. Would a 40 or 70% voter turnout create a more closely representative democracy?
Ward 4 incumbent Paul Davis failed to defend his seat against Riverside insider Chuck Conder. Davis pulled 46% of the vote against Condor’s 54% a clear, undisputed, win for Conder.
Conder is Ward 5 councilman Chris MacArthur’s field representative. While he is in a new ward now, concerns seem reasonable that we can look to MacArthur’s voting record to see a preview of Conder. For ward 2 and University Neighborhood impact, just look at MacArthur’s vote on the Sycamore Canyon warehouse project: it was aye!
In the Ward 6 council race, Jim Perry clobbered Rafael Elizalde 66% to 34%. This result isn’t a huge surprise, Rafael ran on a platform of identity politics. While these issues can be important to our city, they aren’t the most pressing issues when we’ve got warehouses encroaching right up against our residential properties.
Speaking of warehouses, Jim Perry supported the Sycamore Canyon Project. In the PE, he was quoted: “It came down to quality jobs” that developers promised. I agree that we need a ladder of jobs including minimum wage warehousers. I also think that we need to find some interest from other industries in our little town.
From the University Neighborhood, we need to watch Jim Perry closely. It’s clear he’ll vote pro-developer no matter the impact on our neighborhood.
The 2017 Ward 2 council has highest election turnout in years: 20%!
Over the last 12 years the voter turnout for ward 2 council elections has been low, averaging less than 18% of eligible voters. The low water mark was an almost LA bad turnout of 16% in Melendrez’s uncontested run in 2013. This year’s council election found about 20% of University voters turning in ballots to voice their opinion; a turnout better than the last two ward 2 council elections. It’s still disconcerting that only about 4000 people hold sway over our ward and city direction. There are about 45,000 people living in ward 2.
With 12 year incumbent Andy Melendrez carrying the torch of office, challengers Kevin Dawson and Jon Harris attracted a good bit of attention. Dawson, a long time Riverside activist with deep connections to the community and University Neighborhood fielded a grass roots effort to move from the
public comment podium to the council dias. Harris, a pastor with congregation on the Eastside pressured with his street credentials battling street violence.
Still, Melendrez prevailed with 57% of the vote; enough to win cleanly avoiding an expensive and time consuming run-off election in the fall.
For our Neighborhood, I fear that it will be status-quo. We have many opportunities and needs here in the University. Engaged council leadership will be critical to facilitating the discussion and lending direction to the solutions. Andy will continue to be our councilman, I hope with a focused, accessible, and engaged prospective. Andy, congratulations!
Let me know what you think of this status quo. Comment or email your views.