Council Defers Election Year Vote

There was some discussion by the City Council recently on how to approach a state mandate to alter its election years, but a decision was deferred because the body was short one person at its Friday meeting.
Mayor Dr. Allan Yung’s absence from the morning meeting prompted Vice Mayor Dr. Richard Sun to suggest waiting to vote until all five members were available. Everyone else agreed but meanwhile fostered some discussion on the topic.
The issue concerns Senate Bill 415, which, after being approved last year, mandates any political subdivisions with elections that don’t line up with statewide contests to merge their elections with the state depending on voter turnouts.
Those subdivisions are to weigh their most recent local election voter turnout against the average local turnout for the prior four statewide elections. If there is more than a 25% difference in voter turnout, those subdivisions must line up with the state. Under those guidelines, last year’s city council race would have needed to draw 48% of San Marino’s voters; it only netted 38%.
Councilman Steve Talt, however, questioned the evaluation process that led to those numbers. He asked whether subdivisions had to use data from November general elections or could theoretically use data from the June primary elections. No one had a definitive answer.
Verbatim reading of SB 415 says subdivisions must average the previous four “statewide general elections,” seemingly referring to November elections rather than June primaries, which are used to narrow down candidates within political parties.
Talt also voiced concern that merging with statewide elections could complicate ballots for voters in a city of San Marino’s size. The city has shown to house between 8,000 and 9,000 voters for the last decade.
“If we’re forced to have it during a statewide general election, the messaging is going to get lost,” Talt said at the meeting. “People would just be showing up and pushing a button.”
The proposed plans generally involved modifying when to hold the next two elections and to modify terms accordingly. As an example, the San Marino Unified School District Board voted last week to simply add a year to each of its current terms so they expire in 2018 and 2020.
State election code allows subdivisions to vote to modify their own current terms by no more than 12 months as a method to comply with changes to its election dates. In fact, the City Council did just that in 2010 when it voted to move its elections from June to November.
City Clerk Veronica Ruiz noted that statewide general elections have historically had significantly higher turnout while acknowledging the litany of contests at one time could reduce the impact of local campaigning. She explained the benefit of lining up with other elections across Los Angeles County is that the total cost is pooled among all subdivisions.
Talt and Councilman Dr. Steven Huang said the option they would likely support was conducting the 2017 and 2019 city council elections as scheduled but making them for five-year terms so they expire in 2022 and 2024.
Resident Dale Pederson, who had previously expressed concern about the council extending its terms, said he hoped the body would at least conduct the 2017 election as planned in fairness to locals who were already laying the groundwork for running next year (Yung’s, Dr. Richard Sun’s and Richard Ward’s seats are open next year as all three councilmen are termed out).
“I just think that’s the fair way to do it,” Pederson said. “There is no hurry to get this.”
As long as subdivisions adopt a plan by January 2018, they have until 2022 to change their election patterns.
Another resident, Cordelia Donnelly, pleaded with the city council to instead expedite the change in the spirit of following a state mandate and acting quickly on behalf of the people.
“If you choose Option 3 (which keeps the 2017 and 2019 election on schedule), you’re adding a year to the terms anyway,” she said.
Although it was not discussed at the meeting, Ruiz’ report prior to the meeting indicated Los Angeles County might not be prepared to handle a larger November election in 2018 and is expected to have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this law by 2020.

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