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Follow-up to the October 30th public hearing on voting systems for Menlo Park

From: domainremoved <Steve>
Date: Fri, 3 Nov 2017 15:33:14 -0700

To Mayor Keith and Council Members Ohtaki, Mueller, Carlton, and Cline:
Cc: City Attorney McClure

I want to thank the City Council for seriously considering continuation
of the two-track strategy for responding to the CVRA demand letter; that
is, continuing the process of drawing districts to be used in the
November 2018 election, and in parallel beginning the process to
establish a Charter Commission that will propose a two-article charter
for placement on the November 2018 ballot that will specify how City
elections will be conducted in November 2020 and beyond.

Because it appears that Mr. Shenkman's client is willing to give Menlo
Park significantly more time beyond the statutory January 2nd deadline
to adopt a district elections ordinance, and because the City Council is
considering appointing a Citizen Districting Commission to draw the
district lines, I want to urge you to appoint a separate Charter
Commission to draft a proposed two-article charter, rather than having a
single "Citizen Voting and Districting Commission" perform both tasks.
Each task will take significant time, both to educate the respective
commission members on the issues involved, and to take and respond to
appropriate public input, and having one body attempt both tasks risks
it running out of time before it can finish.

By way of reference, in its process to recommend a new electoral system
for the City of Santa Clara and develop the appropriate charter
amendment for its implementation, the 2017 Santa Clara Charter Review
Committee has so far met ten times, meeting at most twice a month for
two to three hours each time. As I write this they have not yet
finished, and will need to meet at least one more time to do so.

When I was a member of the 2000-2001 Santa Clara County Supervisorial
Redistricting Committee, redrawing the Supervisorial districts after the
2000 census, we met eight or nine times, one to two hours each time (not
including the time for the public hearings we held), to complete our
task. (Of course, we were only making slight changes to the existing
districts, not drawing brand-new ones.)

Given that a Districting Commission's proposal would have to go back to
the City Council for conversion to an ordinance that must be passed
before the opening of filing for the November election, and a Charter
Commission's proposal would have to go back to the City Council so it
can order it placed on the November 2018 ballot by August 3rd,
attempting to have one body perform both tasks would risk having it fail
to accomplish one or the other.

I also want to emphasize that the appointed Charter Commission needs to
be instructed that their sole mission is to develop a minimal charter
(what I keep calling a two-article charter) that only addresses how the
City Council is elected, leaving everything else to general law, because
the more issues that the charter attempts to address, the more reasons
you give each voter to vote "No". The example of the City of Davis is
instructive in this case.

In August 2004, the Davis City Council created a Governance Task Force
to consider whether Davis, a general law city, should change the way it
elected its City Council. (This was based on citizen request, with no
threat of a lawsuit.) They eventually recommended that Davis should
switch to the single transferable vote (STV) (what they called "choice
voting" and is now also known as multi-winner ranked choice voting).
Since that would require Davis to become a charter city, the City
Council placed an advisory measure on the November 2006 ballot, asking
the single question "Should the City of Davis consider adopting choice
voting, also known as instant runoff or preference voting, as the system
to elect City Council members?" It passed with 54.7% of the vote.

The City Council then appointed two of its members to a subcommittee to
prepare a charter. But rather than a two-article charter that specified
that elections would be conducted using "choice voting" and everything
else would be governed by general law, the charter they developed gave
broad powers to the City Council. In particular, instead of specifying
that the City Council would be elected using "choice voting", it just
authorized the Council to specify by ordinance how the Council would be
elected. There was no guarantee that the City Council would actually
implement "choice voting" should the charter be adopted.

Needless to say, at the November 2008 election, the charter proposal
lost, 54.3% against to 45.7% in favor. The City Council had ignored the
only reason the voters had for wanting a charter, and sought to give
itself power over issues that the voters hadn't discussed.

It would be wise not to repeat the City of Davis's mistake.

--Steve Chessin
President, Californians for Electoral Reform
1426 Lloyd Way, Mountain View, CA 94040
(408)-276-3222(w), (650)-962-8412(h)
Received on Fri Nov 03 2017 - 15:37:57 PDT

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