Ocean Beach Town Council hears San Diego group’s pitch for election reforms
With various new voting rules being enacted across the country, the main topic at the Ocean Beach Town Council’s March meeting was enabling more choices in public elections while removing the influence of “big money.”
A presentation by Represent San Diego, the local branch of the national group Represent Us, suggested allowing voters to select both first- and second-choice candidates on the ballot to help ensure a clear majority for winners, along with public campaign financing distributed directly by voters.
Volunteers Juliet DeAmicis and Gabriel Patterson of Represent San Diego said those reforms, known respectively as ranked-choice voting and “Democracy Dollars,” are being discussed with City Council members and have a chance of being implemented in the city.
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“We believe in the idea of ‘We the people,’” Patterson said. "[We’re] really trying to protect the vote, trying to get money out of politics and trying to be really big on accountability.”
The current electoral process uses a system in which the candidate who receives the most votes can be elected even with less than a majority of the total votes cast. In an election with three candidates, for example, a person can be declared the winner with 40 percent of the vote, even though a majority — 60 percent — didn’t vote for that candidate, DeAmicis said.
Under ranked-choice voting, voters could mark a second preference on the ballot. If no candidate gets a majority of the vote in the first tally, the one receiving the fewest votes is dropped. The remaining candidates who are second choices among that candidate’s voters get those votes.
The process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes. Ranked-choice voting is used for state primary, congressional and presidential elections in Alaska and Maine and for local elections in more than 20 U.S. cities, including New York.
“This results in discourse and new ideas that actually reflect the populations because newcomers or third parties can finally get a footing,” DeAmicis said. “This also means that we might hear more from women or minority voices because we no longer have to worry about voting for a less-favorable candidate in fear of splitting the vote. Finally, this can help prevent polarized election campaigns that we’re seeing more and more of.”
Under the Democracy Dollars campaign finance idea, voters would receive four $25 vouchers that they can furnish to any candidate’s campaign during each election cycle. Rules would limit campaign spending by recipients.
“It would engage more San Diegans in the democratic process,” DeAmicis said. “It can increase the number of candidates who run for office, it would make elections cheaper and it would lessen corruption by decreasing big money influence.”
The system has been implemented in Seattle, where Patterson lived before coming to San Diego.
“It really does lead you to think more and to think earlier about the elections and who you want to support,” he said.
During the meeting, San Diego police Community Relations Officer David Surwilo discussed the large amount of emails he receives from people requesting stop signs, traffic lights and other traffic-calming installations.
Surwilo advised residents to make their requests to the Transportation Engineering Operations Division of the city Transportation and Stormwater Department at sandiego.gov/tsw/servicerequests/trafficrequest. The division then would survey the volume, type and speed of traffic at the site.
He recommended getting as much community support as possible for such requests.
“I will say that community-driven efforts as a whole do go a long way,” Surwilo said. “So if you can get support from the community ... that always does help drive the project along. Of course, it does come down to what the engineers say based on the facts and not just people’s ... personal opinions.”
Town Council board member Tracy Dezenzo said the Ocean Beach Planning Board, of which she also is a member, and the Peninsula Planning Board are effective alternate routes for traffic-related changes.
“If you have anything you want traffic-wise completed or initiated or run up the chain of command, planning boards are a good place to start for that,” she said.