Vote for seven!

Of the (too) many offices up for election in my area this November, one of the most puzzling is the Ramona Community Planning Group. This is an elected advisory body to the County Board of Supervisors. Ramona is a relatively large community, but is unincorporated.

The Planning Group (can’t they call it a board or a council rather than a group?) consists of 15 members, all elected at-large. In other words, there are no districts. In alternate biennial elections, either eight or seven are up for election. This is a “vote for no more than seven” election. It is a nonpartisan race. The only identifying information on the ballot regarding the candidates is their (self-described) occupation.

So here we have an interesting electoral system. The district magnitude is seven, and the candidates with the seven highest vote totals will be elected. It is a good example of multiple nontransferable vote (MNTV).

MNTV is often called “block vote,” but it really only functions that way if there are, in fact, identifiable “blocks” of candidates in the race and voters who tend to vote “in block.” In other words, if there are de facto parties, which have loyal voters who will go to the trouble of giving all their M (here 7) votes to candidates of the block. Otherwise, it may be more like the limited vote, with many voters using fewer than M votes.

I will certainly be one of those “limited” voters, as I can’t figure out seven candidates I would want to vote for. It is not for lack of choice. There are twenty candidates. But information is somewhat scant. Only six of the candidates submitted statements for the ballot pamphlet. Not that these are ever terribly informative. (One can track down another four on Smart Voter, but information is not extensive there, either.)

There is, however, a “block” within Ramona. It is called Citizens for a Rural Ramona (CFRR). Sounds good, given the character of the region. However, it is a classic NIMBY special-interest organization, comprised mainly of property owners in the vicinity of a proposed road extension. The extension, which would relieve traffic congestion on other streets, has been on the County planning maps for many years, but now that construction is set to start, a neighborhood group is organized to try to take control of the Planning Group.

CFRR has endorsed ten* candidates (overnomination!). Given their organization, they stand a good chance of electing several of their candidates. If their supporters have sufficient “blockness” in their use of votes (using all seven of their votes and voting only for candidates from the endorsed list) they could fill all the seats at stake in this election, even if they are not a majority of the voters. And if they are a majority, they will still be over-represented, because their blockness is sure to exceed that of other groups of voters–many of whom, like me, may cast only two or three votes.

Classic MNTV.

(Three other MNTV races on my ballot are a lot less interesting. Each has M+1 candidates, M of whom are incumbents, with M ranging from 2 to 4.)

* Their website says eleven, but actually lists only ten.

A monorail would be so modern

With the voters having soundly rejected the “please, sirs, if it would not trouble you too much, might we consider just maybe talking about some day using just a little bit of the land around the Miramar base for a modern airport?” advisory measure, the San Diego County airports commission is looking for ways to make the best of antiquated Linbergh Field.

One idea that has been hit upon is to build a centralized parking and transit hub with direct access from the freeways and rail lines that pass so near, yet so far, to the airport. From there, one member suggested, “We could whiz everybody around on a Walt Disney monorail.”

Cool. We might as well use the latest whiz technology.

The Disneyland Monorail was built in 1959, partly as a showcase of the future of mass transit. (I read once that Disney proposed building the line not only for the theme park and adjacent hotel, but with a larger loop around the city of Anaheim, but city officials thought the idea a bit, well, loopy.) That future has been rather slow to catch on, though there does seem to have been something of a boom in monorail construction around US airports in recent years.

Republicans hold Calif-50 House seat

[UPDATED (13 June) as final results continue to trickle in.]

With 100% of precincts accounted for, preliminary results show the 50th House district in California held by the Republican party in the 6 June special election.

    Brian Bilbray (R), 49.66%
    Francine Busby (D), 44.96%
    Bill Griffith (ind), 3.79%
    Pail King (Libtn.), 1.60%

Bilbray’s margin was just over 4400 votes.

Busby won just over 68,000 votes, or roughly 8,000 more than in the first round in April, when turnout was slightly lower. Turnout in the district’s runoff was reported to be around 42% (a few percentage points higher than in the rest of the County, as well as a few percentage points higher than in April).

Bilbray’s 49.7% is almost four percentage points worse than the whole field of 18 Republican hopefuls got in April, but it was enough.

Former Congressman and now Convict Duke Cunningham beat Busby, 58–36, in November, 2004.

In the second division of the special election, the Libertarian more than doubled his votes from round one to the runoff and Minutemen-endorsee Griffiths more than quadrupled his votes.

After the first round, when Busby won 43.8%, I said:

Nearly 44% of the vote for a Democrat in this district is impressive. But that moral victory still looks to me like the only kind she will get.

While my post on election day gave some scenarios in which she might win, she and the party indeed will have to settle for the moral victory–at least for now. She gets another crack at Bilbray (who won 54% in the concurrent closed Republican primary) in November.

Banning write-in candidates in runoffs unwise

UPDATE: The measure to ban write-in candidates in runoffs passed, about 55%–45%. Another measure also put on the ballot by the County Supervisors, to “clean up” provisions of the County Charter, passed about 70–30. I will take the relatively close result of the measure on which I published an op ed (copied here on the inside page) as evidence of my vast influence on County voters. My “no” got 15 points more than the other! Alas, it was not enough.

The following ran in the 2 June edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

On election day, the county Board of Supervisors is asking voters to approve Proposition B, which would bar write-in candidates from contesting general elections for county offices. The measure is an obvious response to the controversy in 2004-05 in the city of San Diego when Donna Frye’s general election write-in campaign for mayor resulted in a recount, court battles and ultimately Mayor Dick Murphy’s resignation. While no one would hope to see a similar situation in a county election, the board’s proposal sharply restricts voter choice and should be rejected.

County elections, like those of the city, occur in two rounds: First, a nonpartisan primary in June, in which a majority of votes is required; if no candidate obtains a majority, a runoff occurs in the November general election. Proposition B would ensure that the only candidates competing in this runoff were the two candidates with the most votes in the primary.

There are two problems with Proposition B’s proposed change: Time and choice. June to November is a very long time. New issues might arise that were not even addressed when voters whittled the field to two in the primary. This is exactly what happened in 2004 in the city of San Diego, when the scale of the financial crisis became clear only after the primary.

This is where choice comes in. By entering the race as a write-in candidate, Donna Frye gave voters another alternative, and focused the fall campaign on the looming crisis. The controversy that followed the election stemmed not from the mere presence of a write-in candidate, or even from the election of a candidate by less than 50 percent of the votes. Rather, it stemmed from the technicality that Frye’s margin over Murphy included improperly marked ballots.

Banning future “Fryes” is attacking the wrong problem. Given the uphill battle any write-in candidate must face to have a serious shot at winning, an insurgent campaign like Frye’s can flourish only if the ground is fertile – that is, if there is popular demand for another choice on account of information that comes to light only with the passage of time after the primary.

If one is concerned to ensure that the winner of these nonpartisan elections have a majority of the votes – a criterion, by the way, required at no other level in this state, where third party candidates contest general elections – there are better ways than to force a majority by restricting voters’ choices.

The time between voters’ narrowing of the field and then giving their final verdict could be shortened. Many jurisdictions that use two rounds hold them only a month or so apart. That is not an option in San Diego County, because it would require the establishment of a completely new election date. So why not reduce the time between rounds to zero? That is, make the runoff “instant.”

Under an instant runoff, the only election needed is the November general, yet a majority-supported winner is still guaranteed. Voters rank-order their choices – first, second, etc. – among the candidates running. The candidate who is last in first-preference votes is eliminated, and his or her ballots are transferred to those voters’ second choices. This process continues in multiple rounds of counting until a candidate has a majority.

The result is exactly like a runoff, but on one ballot – a far better solution than the Board of Supervisors propose with Proposition B. Rather than four months between the narrowing of the field and a runoff with restricted choice, voters would have a menu of many candidates from which they would produce a majority in one election: Less time, more choice.