Morro Bay’s Measure J would simplify the city’s electoral process by replacing the cumbersome system — the city holds a primary election for mayor and council and, if necessary, a runoff —with the one-and-done election that all other local cities follow.
We strongly urge Morro Bay voters to support it.
The two-election system, passed by voters in 2006, has proven to be clunky and confusing.
Consider June’s election: The outcome was in doubt for several days because the city wasn’t sure how to deal with 123 ballots that had not been marked for City Council. If those ballots were not counted, candidate John Headding would have the clear majority and be declared the winner, but if they were counted, a runoff would be necessary.
Morro Bay’s legal counsel decided the ballots should not be counted — which meant Headding won — though by then, incumbent Nancy Johnson had already conceded to Headding.
While the matter was settled without too much grief, imagine the contentious and lengthy legal battle that could occur if the situation were to happen again, and the losing candidate was not willing to concede or to accept the city’s legal opinion.
There are other problems:
Under the current system, incumbents who lose in the primary remain in office until December. During that long lame-duck period, the outgoing officeholders could very well vote for unpopular projects or policies that lost them the election in the first place. So much for democratic rule.
When two elections must be held, it’s more expensive and time consuming not only for the city, but also for candidates who are forced to conduct two campaigns. That’s a lot to ask of candidates who may also be running their own businesses, working full-time jobs and taking care of families.
When it passed in 2006, supporters argued that the two-election system would lead more candidates to seek office because they wouldn’t have to be concerned about “vote-splitting.” That hasn’t been the case. In 2008 — the first year the two-election system took effect — there were indeed more candidates: four for mayor and eight for council. But in the years that followed, there were fewer candidates. This year, there were just two candidates for mayor and three for council — the smallest pool of candidates in many years.
That leaves one major argument in favor of the two-election system: It ensures that candidates who are elected have the support of a majority of voters, rather than a plurality.
That’s a fine principle, but those who win by a plurality, rather than a clear majority, are still the top choice of the voters in a democratic election.
There is a strong tradition in this nation of electing by a plurality, rather that majority — one that’s followed by virtually every city in San Luis Obispo County, in addition to school districts, community services districts and other local public agencies.
As we’ve said previously, the two-election system was an interesting and well-intentioned experiment, but the disadvantages are many and the advantages are elusive.
As supporters of Measure J succinctly put it, “Common sense says a single election in November is best for Morro Bay.”
We agree. The Tribune strongly endorses Morro Bay’s Measure J.