Supporters of choice voting in city elections will have to continue to wait before they see any progress toward their goal.
Members of the Davis City Council decided Tuesday that it would be best to put off a decision on a city charter and choice voting.
A measure could appear on the ballot in November that would ask voters to approve a charter – essentially a constitution – for the city. Approval of the charter would give the city the ability to implement choice voting in city council elections, a change in the electoral system that has significant support in the community.
Choice voting allows voters to rank candidates on a ballot in an order according to their preference. A mathematical formula is applied that distributes votes proportionately according to voter preferences rather than the traditional plurality system. According to groups that support such a system, the result is a lowering of the threshold required to win.
A report from the city‘s Governance Task Force in 2005 supported choice voting, and in 2006 voters approved a measure instructing the city to consider choice voting. In order to be able to adopt choice voting in city council elections, however, Davis must first become a charter city by adopting a charter.
Mayor Sue Greenwald said at the meeting that she was in favor of the charter for the purpose of an experiment in choice voting.
“The citizens already voted more or less that they‘d like to try out choice voting, so why don‘t we just pass the broad charter – all of us have been instructed to try it out,“ she said.
Councilmember Don Saylor sharply disagreed.
“I heard the language ‘consider,‘” he said. “I did not hear the language ‘try it out.‘”
Saylor said the council needed a better understanding of what a charter and choice voting would mean.
“If we are going to proceed with it, we need to have an actual open public consideration rather than an ordinance declared by council,” he said. “We’re voting in the dark, and we‘re asking the voters to vote in the dark.“
In 2003, UC Davis students voted to adopt choice voting in ASUCD Senate elections. Choice voting is most common in student government elections in the United States, although Cambridge, Mass. and Berkeley have adopted choice voting for city elections. Several English-speaking countries, such as Ireland and Australia, use choice voting in national elections.
For councilmember Stephen Souza, a member of the charter city subcommittee, the ability to implement a choice voting system by becoming a charter city is a matter of maturity.
“I think in our 91st year we‘re mature enough as a city to have our own constitution,” he said. “They‘ve done it across the street. I would think we‘re capable of doing it ourselves.“
The strongest opponent of the charter is Mayor Pro Tempore Ruth Asmundson, who said several times throughout the discussion that she did not understand why a charter needed to be adopted now when there were so many other important things the city is dealing with. She also expressed concern about whether the city had the resources to convince voters to approve such a measure.
Despite a majority of councilmembers supporting a ballot measure creating a charter, the council decided to wait to hear more options from city staff. The council has until its meeting July 15 to submit November ballot measures to the county clerk-recorder.
Three members of the public spoke in favor of a charter to adopt choice voting.
A state bill that would have allowed any city or county in California to implement choice voting, regardless of charter status, was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.