May 26, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Healthy Next Steps for Democracy in Santa Monica, Part II:

Michael Feinstein, Santa Monica City Council member

Special to the Mirror

Santa Monica’s current voting system has many advantages. But it can also be improved. How do we make it better, without losing the good we already have?

Under our current system, Santa Monicans can vote for all seven City Council seats. Elected officials must know the city and be responsive across geographical lines to win. After each election, residents have seven Council members they can approach, increasing the likelihood they’ll find someone with whom they share a perspective as issues vary.

But perhaps the greatest benefit is that because we elect several positions at once in a community-wide, multi-seat election, our results are semi-proportional. Voters are able to “self-group” — in different combinations around different candidates — reflecting a range of priorities that evolve and shift with each race.

This proportionality is far preferable to limiting representation and choice through imposing single-seat, winner-take-all districts. In such districts, only one perspective wins, all others lose, voters can be trapped within a ‘lesser-of-evils/spoiler’ voting dynamic and the incentive for policy-makers to work community-wide is decreased (see www.goodgovernment4santamonica.com for more).

Our current system has two main, related issues that we need to address.

First, if a majority of voters (say 60 percent) vote in unison, they can overwhelm the rest and elect a disproportionate ‘super-majority’ (say 100 percent) of the seats. Instead, we want a system where viewpoints are represented in the proportion that they exist within the community.

Second, voters are sometimes incentivized to strategically cast fewer votes than they are entitled to – often called “bullet” or “under” voting — to promote the election of their most favored candidate, lest a vote for another helps defeat their strongest preference. Instead, we want voters to be free to express their preferences fully, without fear of backfire.

Full Representation – Choice Voting

Also known as “proportional representation,” “preferential voting” or “single transferable vote,” Choice Voting would give fuller representation to the diversity of our community, helping ensure that everyone’s vote counts and that all political perspectives are represented.

In Choice Voting, voters simply rank the candidates in the order of their preference (1,2,3,4, etc. …), ranking as many or as few as they would like. Once a voter’s first choice is elected or eliminated, surplus votes are then “transferred” to their subsequent preferences, until all seats are filled (www.fairvote.org/factshts/choice1.htm).

Because not all votes are ranked the same, a majority of voters cannot be over-represented in this system. Instead of casting equally-weighted votes for several candidates simultaneously, voters are compelled to indicate their individual priorities more clearly. This helps lead to identifying community priorities more clearly, while achieving a more representative proportionality in the final result.

Also, because a lower preference vote never undermines a higher one, the incentive to ‘under-vote’ is eliminated. This takes the guesswork out of our elections and makes voting as easy as 1, 2, and 3. Eventually, nearly every voter has their preferences help elect at least one of the winning candidates and most often at least one of their top choices.

Choice voting is recommended by the National Civic League in its Model City Charter, as the best way to elect city government. In Cambridge, Massachusetts – a community with many similarities to Santa Monica – it has been successfully used for decades, as it has been in Ireland and Australia. Closer to home, the Motion Picture Academy uses it to choose the Academy Awards finalists, and just last year San Francisco voted to implement a similar system.

Santa Monica formally looked at this issue in 1992. The City’s Charter Review Commission recommended Choice Voting as the best option for local elections. Although the City Council was split at the time and did not act on this recommendation, in 1999 it gave City staff direction to further explore the use of Choice Voting for local elections, a process that was to also include the Santa Monica League of Women Voters.

In 2001, the League’s membership subsequently took the position that it “supports consideration of alternative voting systems for Santa Monica elections with a special emphasis on the single transferable vote or Choice [Voting] system.”

Instead of the forced, high-stakes debate the community went through in November over Measure HH [VERITAS], this time the city should take a more measured and learned approach to electoral reform, attempting to build consensus rather than rushing to the ballot box. Exposure and education about Choice Voting should begin on the grassroots community level – from civic and neighborhood organizations’ board of directors, to Samohi and SMC student government, to mock elections and the City’s own polling of residents on community priorities.

With such a considered approach, we may find that Santa Monicans will grow to appreciate the greater flexibility and power Choice Voting provides and support its adoption for use in City elections.

Councilmember Feinstein can be reached via his website at www.feinstein.org.

in Opinion
Related Posts

​​Doubt Removed: Oil Refiners Gouging Us

May 23, 2022

May 23, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist There was some room for doubt back in February, when gasoline prices rose precipitously: Until the...

Is the Big Housing Crunch Mostly Fiction?

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better & Not Necessary! – Part 2

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

The dream of our beachfront city is about to become a nightmare! Just imagine a tsunami of these projects washing...

Column From Santa Monica Mayor Himmelrich: We Walk the Talk

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor  I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better!

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

It’s appalling to see what’s happening in our city – projects recently built or about to be approved – in...

Renting Your Second Home

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway,...

Column: Cities Fight to Maintain Distinctive Characters

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gelson’s, Boxed-In

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

This week we are re-visiting an article from 2018 regarding the Miramar project, by simply replacing the word “Miramar” with...

Column: Are You Talking Yourself Out of Saving for Retirement? Here’s How to Break the Habit

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

Saving for retirement can be an abstract concept. It’s something we all know we should do, but the farther away...

SMa.r.t. Column: Failure to Plan…

April 30, 2022

April 30, 2022

Over the last approximately two years your City has been busy trying to respond to new California laws that are...

Letter to Editor: Your “Standing Firm With Santa Monica” Initiative

April 25, 2022

April 25, 2022

The following is an open letter to Councilmember Sue Himmelrich from Santa Monica resident Arthur Jeon regarding a proposed transfer...

SMa.r.t. Column: Planning The Real Future

April 24, 2022

April 24, 2022

In the 1970s, renowned USC architecture professor Ralph Knowles developed a method for planning and designing cities that would dramatically...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan: The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 15, 2022

April 15, 2022

Part II: Who pays the proposed transfer tax and where does the money go? Last week, we introduced the proposed...

Column: NIMBYs Getting a Bad Rap

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

By Tom Elias Rarely has a major group of Californians suffered a less deserved rash of insults and attacks than...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan – The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

Part 1 of 2 In this two-part article, we will discuss both the proposed transfer tax ballot initiative and the...