Cheryl Cox, Mary Salas, Pamela Bensoussan
In 2012, voters in Chula Vista overwhelmingly passed Proposition B, a proposition that amended the city charter. At an August 5 council meeting, mayor Cheryl Cox, supported by councilmember Pamela Bensoussan, proposed putting a portion of Proposition B on the November ballot — so voters could reconsider their vote.
The 2012 proposition had two parts. The first part changed the way councilmembers are elected — from an at-large system to geographical districts. The committee to create district boundaries has recently been empaneled.
The second part of the ballot called for a mandatory candidate runoff. The two top vote-getting candidates for mayor, city council, and city attorney — even if one receives 50 percent of the vote in the June primary — must face-off in the November general election.
Former councilmember Steve Castaneda argued in 2012 that voter turnout for primaries is low. He suggested that it might not be a representative democracy if a candidate was elected by only 16 percent of the voting population — something that happened in the June 2010 Chula Vista mayoral primary.
In 2012, Proposition B passed with 44,906 voting “Yes” and 26,718 voting “No.”
At the August 5 city council meeting, Cox brought forward ballot language to undo the mandatory elections for candidates in a regular June/November election cycle.
Cox argued, “Every time you put an item on the ballot you have a dollar sign attached to it.” While she acknowledged the concern that voter turnout in a primary is typically less than in a general election, she went on to state her “personal opinion”:
“I believe that the opportunity to register and vote is a privilege. If you fail to vote in the June election for whatever reason, knowing that you could have mailed in your ballot…and you neglected to do that, then you can vote again in November, but you may have missed your opportunity to vote for somebody who is going to serve on the city council….”
Bensoussan supported the mayor in her argument by adding that the idea of mandatory elections had been hastily tacked on to Proposition B. She said that while district elections had been examined over a period of time, the mandatory-runoff portion of the ballot arose suddenly. She said that she wanted to give the voters a “second opportunity to reaffirm their decision.”
Councilmember Mary Salas objected to putting the question of mandatory elections to the voters again.
She pointed out that Proposition B, in 2012, had an impartial analysis that fully explained the issue to voters.
Salas noted that in 2012 there was a presidential election, which created a large voter turnout, and that 62.7 percent of the local population voted in favor of district elections and mandatory runoffs.
She said: “The public spoke at that time, the mayor [Cox] had an opportunity to weigh in; she publicly opposed Proposition B, yet the voters thought differently and voted overwhelmingly...
She remonstrated, “Don’t second-guess the electorate, and respect that the voters do know what they’re voting for.”
Regarding the question of cost, Salas said the June/November elections are consolidated, so cost is minimized, “We do pay a price for democracy.”
An additional point made by Salas was that “to do anything less than respect the vote would diminish our [city council’s] capacity to put things on the ballot and have the voters have confidence that we are not going to backpedal.”
After a protracted discussion, the council voted 3-2 not to put the item on the ballot again.
Cox brought a related ballot proposition before the council.
Voters will be asked in November whether the council — in the event that a seat is vacated for more than one year but less than 25 months — should be allowed to choose between appointment and special election to fill the vacated seat. The voters will also be asked to waive the mandatory runoff election in the case of a special election.
Cox pointed out that holding a special election and a runoff election would be costly and that the council would, in the event of this kind of vacancy, have to struggle with the difficulties of a four-person council for a prolonged period of time.
The vote was 5-0 in favor of putting this on the ballot. The cost to the city to place this on the November ballot will be $47,000.