Saturday, August 20, 2016

San Leandro's Electoral System: Time for Reform?

For those new to San Leandro, or voting for the first time this November, please vote on all city and school ballot measures. That way you will truly have an impact on our community. Races in San Leandro can be close - some seats and measures have been decided by 1 or less percent of the vote.

As background, the City of San Leandro is run by a Mayor and six City Council members. Together, they
 form the City Council.

The Mayor is the presiding officer of City Council meetings and serves as the spokesperson for the City. However, the Mayor has no more authority than a City Council member when it comes to voting on matters - the Mayor has one vote as does each Council member.

The Mayor and City Council members are limited two consecutive, four year terms. Unlike at the state level, the City's term limits are not a lifetime restriction. A person could serve two terms, leave the Council for four years, and then run again. 

For the upcoming election, there are four candidates for 3 council seats. In 2018, the Mayor's seat plus 3 council seats will be on the election ballot.

Even though 4 candidates are running for 3 council seats this November, there will not be contested races for 2 council seats because of San Leandro's unique district council system.

Councilmember Benny Lee has no opponent. He will automatically be re-elected to another four year term to represent Council District 4.

Peter Ballew, a candidate running for the seat held by Jim Prola (who is terming out), also has no opponent. He will walk onto the City Council and represent Council District 6.

The sole contested race is in District 2, the seat currently held by Council member Ursula Reed, who is terming out. Two City Commissioners are running for the seat - Bryan Acevedo and Ed Hernandez.

If all council seats in San Leandro were at large, all four candidates would have to compete in the upcoming election and seek the support of the voters. The top three voter getters would serve on the Council. This how many City Council elections occur in Alameda County and across the state.

San Leandro has a hybrid electoral system that is unique in California.  We all vote for the candidates regardless of the district we live in (as occurs in at large elections) but the candidate must reside in the district he or she is running to represent.

The purpose is to ensure neighborhood diversity on the Council, e.g. Council members reside across the City and can not live in one area. I don't deny this has value but it comes too often at the expense (in my opinion) of something far more important - a healthy local democracy.

Government (at any level) only works when the candidate must compete for office. That will not happen in 2 of 3 City Council races this November. And it has repeatedly occurred in past elections. 
 
Please feel free to share with me your opinions on the matter.  Should San Leandro 

(a) keep its current electoral system,
(b) scrap it and have all Council members elected at large, or
(c) keep district seats and have only voters within each district vote for their Council member (this is another possibility which would lower the cost of running for City Council and thereby may encourage more candidates)?

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