City Council Delays Vote About Voting, Opts for Public Outreach First

Members want residents to weigh in before Council makes a decision on changing voting cycles

Published : Tuesday, October 31, 2017 | 4:14 AM

Pasadena City Council Doesn't Vote on California Voter Participation Rights ActPlurality elections? Winner take all? Fifty percent plus one? Extended current terms for current office holders? Candidates taking office by winning 19% of the vote?

These and a dizzying array of other questions concerning the City of Pasadena transitioning to an even-year election schedule to coincide with state elections were put on hold as the City Council Monday agreed to institute a series of outreach programs to explore public sentiment before making any decisions.

The programs would more fully inform local voters of the implications of such a voting cycle change.

The public outreach meetings would be run and managed by City Clerk Mark Jomsky, along with the League Women Voters Pasadena Area, whose president, Dorothy Keane, offered the assistance during the public comment section of the agenda item.

The election date change is necessary in order for the City to be in compliance with the recently passed California Voter Participation Rights Act, which would eliminate off-year elections in order to streamline State elections and increase voter participation.

The first option would be a Primary and General election format for the offices of Mayor and City Council, in which the odd-year March Primary election lines up with the statewide even-year March Primary election, and the City’s odd-year April General election would be moved to line up with the statewide even-year November General election.

In this option, all successful candidates must receive a fifty percent plus one majority in either the Primary election or the statewide November General election, and then current terms for the Mayor and City Council would be extended by as many as 20 months in order to line up the statewide election cycle.

Confused yet? There’s more.

In the second option, the City would decide to have plurality voting for mayoral and City Council district elections—meaning that a successful candidate must simply receive the highest number of votes, regardless of percentages—and then, determine if Mayoral and City Council district elections should consolidate with, and occur on, statewide Primary election dates, or on statewide General election dates. As with the first option, current terms for the Mayor and City Council would be extended by as many as 20 months to line up with the statewide election cycle.

And there is still a third option.

In this third option, the primary and general election format for Mayoral elections would require a fifty percent plus one majority to be elected, but Council elections would be plurality-based. The City’s March odd-year primary election held would move to coincide with the statewide March Primary election held in even years. The odd-year City April General election would move to coincide with statewide November General election held in even years.

In this scenario, the Council would need to determine if the City Council District elections should consolidate with, and occur on statewide Primary dates, or on statewide General dates; and then current terms for the Mayor and City Council would also be extended by as many as 20 months to facilitate the one-time transition to the statewide election cycle.

A number of admittedly frustrated councilmembers agreed in principle with the idea of increasing voters.

“All elections should be at the same time,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin.

Vice Mayor John Kennedy agreed, but said he would prefer fifty percent plus one elections with a runoff, acknowledging, “We have a responsibility to increase voter turnout.”

Kennedy also said that with such a decision, the City Charter “would be trampled,” and that the City should maintain its own elections. Finally, Kennedy admitted, “I’m torn.”

Both Mayor Tornek and Vice Mayor John Kennedy, however, lamented the seeming lack of public interest in the issue, and feared that the major change in the City’s charter, which the change would require, deserved a wider audience. Thus their agreement with the public outreach program.

“We have some time,” offered Mayor Tornek, in suggesting the outreach decision. “We just have to have something in place by the end of this year, and then be ready for a ballot measure election on March 9, in order to be ready for a June 2018 election.”

Pasadena resident Emanuel Nijera defended the plurality voting idea, turning it on its side, saying, “This gives the political newcomer a 1 in 20 chance to actually win elected office.”

Local civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier stood fast at the opposite end of the spectrum, however, urging the Council to “retain the status quo,” and not change the election cycle at all.

“The state won’t sue us,” he said.

 

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