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.

Scurrilous campaign mailing

There is certainly nothing new about scurrilous campaign mailings, but the one that we received yesterday from a candidate for the Republican nomination for state assembly* was among the worst I have seen recently.

The mailing asks, “Mexifornia… or California?” It shows an outline of the state of California superimposed with the colors and emblem of the Mexican flag. In turn, the entire thing is superimposed with the image of a family on the run, which anyone who has driven I-5 in the last decade or so has seen as a highway warning sign. Even the word, “caution” is included in the mailer’s image. Of course, the actual signs are meant to caution the driver that there could be pedestrians on the freeway, but the idea of “caution” in the mailing is rather, and not so subtly, different.

I will place a photo of the mailing on the “inside page.” Continue reading

Military to block SD airport?

The airport commission that has been evaluating sites for a modern international airport for San Diego has identified the obvious: The best sites are either Miramar or Pendleton, with North Island as a less viable alternative, but still preferable to retaining all operations at cramped Lindbergh or building a new airport on the other side of the mountains. The first two preferred sites are Marine bases, and the third is Navy.

So, just to ensure the military’s right to say no, Congressman Duncan Hunter (Republican, and chair of the House Armed Service Committee), joined by two other Representatives from the County (including the one of the two current Democrats, Susan Davis), has introduced language into a bill about to clear the House that would prevent any further consideration of the bases for a civilian or joint-use airport.

Contrary to appearances, not all of us San Diegans are affiliated with the military or defense contractors, but Duncan–and his colleagues–are more concerned to represent powerful special interests than to represent the broad interests of the citizens of this county, who need a modern airport for continued growth of the tourism industry (the no. 1 revenue source) and the economy more generally.

The North County Times describes the language that Hunter has slipped into this bill, apparently without even a full debate:

[it] would keep Miramar, Pendleton and North Island free from civilian intrusion.

Civilian intrusion?

Last I checked, we had a civilian government and the military served it. However, I will admit that I have not checked in a while.

CA-50: Bilbray may face nomination challenge in June

Republican Brian Bilbray, who will face off against Democrat Francine Busby (and two minor candidates) in June to fill the remainder of Duke Cunningham’s 50th US House term, may not have a clear path to his party’s nomination for the full term to be decided in November. On the same day as the special-election runoff, there will be a primary for November. Eric Roach, narrowly defeated by Bilbray for the Republican runoff slot, may enter the June primary, and Howard Kaloogian–who came in third among Republicans–may endorse Roach.

Given that Bilbray could be seen as a weak candidate,* and given that he won only 28.5% of the total number of votes received by Republicans in the first round, it would be surprising if no one were tempted to challenge him for the nomination. In June, unlike in the April vote, only registered Republicans and independents who specifically request a Republican ballot, and not Democrats, will be able to participate in any contest among Republicans for the right to bear the label in November.

*Former and not very distinguished congressman from a (mostly) different district, with a moderate voting record on many key Republican issues, and now a lobbyist.

Click here for the full set of posts on the 50th race and other aspects of the 2006 congressional elections.

Regional patterns and turnout in the 50th district

From the past week or so, a couple of reports from the North [San Diego] County Times have looked at the turnout and regional patterns within the CA-50 House district special election.

The final tally shows the turnout was 39% of registered voters. That may not sound like much, but it is actually quite high for a special House election. Turnout apparently was higher in the coastal communinities, which are precisely the areas in which Democratic candidate Francine Busby was strongest.

In many midterm elections, when the party in control of the House changes (as in 1994), or when it defies the usual midterm-loss phenomenon and picks up seats (as in 1998 and 2002), turnout is typically one of the decisive factors. Is the 50th district turnout pattern significant? Does it show an energized Democratic party and unenthusiastic Republicans? Or will it be an aberation? The answer to these questions will go a long way towards determining which party is in control of the US House as of next January.

A second report shows a map of the top three candidates’ support in various communities.* It shows that Busby won majorities in the coastal communities of Encinitas (a small subset of which is Cardiff, where she is an elected school board member) and Del Mar, as well as in the slightly inland sprawl-town of Del Mar Heights. The three top candidates ran almost even in the wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, where 24% of the vote was far below Busby’s overall district share (44%). In the inland communities Busby ran slightly below (or, in the case of Escondido, well behind, at 35%) of her district overall share.

*I was going to post it, but it is rather small and blurry. It was a lot easier to read in the print version than on-line.

Busby’s chances

I have been saying all along (contrary to much mainstream punditry) that the Democratic candidate for California’s 50th House district, Francine Busby, stood a better chance of winning in the runoff in June that in the first round that took place on 11 April.

I have also said she had little chance in either round. With her surprising 44%–about ten points better than pre-election polls–have her chances improved?

Yes. It is still a longshot, but the apparent nomination of a former congressman, Brian Bilbray, (from a different, and only partly overlapping district, who was defeated in 2000 by Susan Davis in the since re-districted 53rd) gives her a chance.1

Assuming Busby faces Bilbray, she can run against the ex-congressman who cashed in as a lobbyist,2 thereby boosting her first-round campaign theme of the “culture of corruption.” As I noted yesterday, Bilbray is a relative moderate within the local Republican party–he had to be, because his old district was one of those increasingly rare competitive types–but his being a lobbyist may be more relevant today than a six-year-old voting record.3

Obviously, the key to Bilbray’s beating Busby is to unite the divided Republican forces–even mainstream pundits get that! Their fourteen candidates combined for 53.3% of the vote. Busby and one other Democrat combined for 45.2%. There is a danger sign in these numbers for Republicans: Even with numerous candidates appealing to various segments of the party, they underperformed Bush’s vote in the district in 2004, which was 55%.

Busby is not a first-time candidate, so we have a good comparison to the previous election. In 2004, she ran against then-incumbent Duke Cunningham (first elected in this district in 1992)4, and lost 36-58, in what was the first serious and well organized campaign by a Democrat I had seen in thirteen years of living in this region. (By contrast, a different Democratic candidate had lost, 32-64, to Cunningham in 2002.) Obviously, a district that split between the Democrats and Republicans, 45-53, this week is “in play” for the first time ever. But is this the best Busby can do? Maybe not.

A key factor–unkown, unless there were exit polls of which I am unaware–is how much cross-party voting there was in the first round. Obviously, Busby has already won over some independents and probably even some Republicans. Democrats represent only about 30% of the district’s registration, against 45% Republican and around 22% nonpartisan. Thus Busby outpolled her party by around 14 percentage points. Has she fully fished the pool of cross-party voters? If so, she will lose roughly 53-45.

What is unknown is how many Democrats and independents might have voted for a Republican other than the one nominated, and whether any of them would prefer Busby over the actual nominee now that their first choice from the field is eliminated.

And then there is the wildcard of the concurrent primary-runoff in June. Not only will Busby and Bilbray face off in June, but on the same day there will also be the closed party primaries to pick the candidates for the regular November general election. Bilbray won around 28% of the total votes cast for Republicans in the first round (which, rememeber, was 53% of the total and may have included some Democrats who will not be eligible to vote in the closed party primary in June, although independents may still do so). It is hardly a stretch to think that Bilbray might face challengers from within the party for the nomination to face (presumably) Busby in November. If there is at least one Republican challenging him in the June primary, he may lose votes (perhaps to absentention) in the concurrent runoff for the remainder of Duke’s unexpired term.

It is still an uphill battle for Busby, and even if she wins in June, she may face a stronger Republican challenger than Bilbray in November and lose then.

But her prospects look a lot better today than they looked a few days ago. And even a loss but with a mid-40s showing in June could be a significant harbinger of winds of change come November.

UPDATE, 14 April: Bilbray apparently has clinched. With only about 1,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted, Bilbray’s lead for the Republican runoff slot has widened slightly (to 0.77%), and his lead over Roach is greater than 1,000 votes.

FURTHER UPDATE: As of the end of the day Friday, 14 April, around 500 ballots remained to be counted and the top three percentages stand at 43.75, 15.26, 14.50.

Notes & sources

1. The nomination of Brian Bilbray is not yet assured (as of the original posting, which will be updated at the bottom of the main text–i.e. just above these footnotes). About 10,000 absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted, and Bilbray’s lead over Eric Roach is under 9% of that remaining total. Roach could overtake Bilbray, and even if he does not, if Bilbray’s lead narrows by about 250 votes, a recount would be likely. The remainder of this entry will assume that the Republican candidate will be Bilbray. If, on the other hand, Roach wins the nomination, he might be harder to defeat. He is a millionaire who could spend freely while perhaps neutralizing some of the “culture of corruption” message through his declared refusal to accept donations from political action committees (PACs).

2. The organization for which Bilbray has been working advocates stricter immigration controls. Given the salience, but also the volatility, of that issue right now, it is unclear to me whether this actually will turn out to be an asset or a further liability.

3. According to the 2006 edition of Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen’s The Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), p. 311, in defeating Bilbray in 2000, Susan Davis “portrayed him as a conservative, even though he took liberal positions on abortion and the environment and made a point of not attending the Republican National Convention. He supported John McCain’s campaign finance regulation bill…”

4. Cunningham was first elected in 1990, with only 46% of the vote, in a different district in which he knocked off an incumbent Democrat (Jim Bates). He challenged incumbent Republican Bill Lowery in the primary in his new district in 1992. Lowery, implicated in the House banking scandal, withdrew, and Cunningham won 56% of the vote in November of that year and 67% in 1994. (Almanac of American Politics, p. 302.)

For further details, see the special coverage in the local paper. Ironically, this linked page comes up with a page title indicating it contains “obituaries!” Could they be referring to the death of a once safe Republican district? Or would such reports be greatly exaggerated?

50th US House first-round result

In the first round of the special election to fill the US House seat formerly held by the Crooked Duke, Francine Busby leads the field by a surprisingly large margin, with 43.92%. A second Democrat, Chris Young (not to be confused with the Padre pitcher), placed in the top ten in the field of 18 candidates, with 1.32%.

Busby will face former Rep. Brian Bilbray in the runoff in June. Bilbray won 15.15%. Also in the runoff will be William Griffith (independent, 0.82%) and Paul King (Libertarian, 0.6%).

Bilbray won the Republican slot in the runoff over Eric Roach by 880 votes (0.69%). The third Republican, former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, had 7.45%, and the fourth, former state Senator Bill Morrow, had only 5.39%.

Busby has more votes than the top four Republicans combined. Yet it is hard to see where she would get the extra votes she will need to beat Bilbray. She is probably also hurt by the twin facts that Bilbray is a relative moderate and there is no hard-right candidate in a third party who might hurt the Republican.

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.

The myth about Busby, continued

Normally respectable sources, in this case Capitol Weekly (as quoted at San Diego Politics Blog), continue to perpetuate the myth that somehow Democratic candidate Francine Busby has a better chance of an upset in the 50th House district in the first round than in the second.

April 11 could be do-or-die for Francine Busby. The Democratic congressional candidate appears to have a slim chance to win a majority in next week’s special election to replace former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. But she would be a heavy underdog in a runoff as GOP voters unite around a single candidate.

Capitol Weekly simply makes no sense here. She is no more likely to win 50%+1 on 11 April than she is to win a plurality in June.

In fact her slim hopes of winning rest on either (1) the leading Republican emerging from the first round being too extreme to win the runoff, or (2) a third-party or independent candidate splitting the Republican vote in the general.

Given that there is no “Gilchrist” running in the 50th, Busby’s hopes for the second scenario appear to have vanished.

That leaves the first scenario. Busby is not likely to defeat a single Republican candidate in June, but such an upset is still far more likely her crossing the 50% threshold on 11 April when all flavors of Republican politics have someone to their liking.

CA-50 special election candidates

For those following the special election on 11 April in California’s 50th House district, the North [San Diego] County Times ran a profile of the candidates on Sunday.

Meanwhile, polls show Francine Busby with a large lead, but also an irrelevant one. She would need a majority of votes cast on 11 April to win outright, and she is ten-to-fifteen percentage points short of that. Failing a majority, she will meet the leading Republican (and other registered parties’ leading candidates) in a June runoff, to be held the same day as the closed partisan primaries for the candidates for November’s regular general election.

Two polls disagree on the ranking of the more important race with the race being conducted on 11 April: That for the leading Republican candidate who will face (and almost certainly defeat) Busby in June. The two polls agree on which candidates are bunched within the margin of error for winning the open Republican primary occuring within this special election: Brian Bilbray, Eric Roach, and Howard Kaloogian. (Unsolicited advice to Democratic voters: Pick your preferred runoff-mate from these three!)

Among the blogs following this race are Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch and the San Diego Politics Blog.