Election lessons

For all their faults, American elections are still one of the greatest examples of democracy in action. Whether you win or lose, at the end of the day there are always lessons to be learned and the will of the people is made known. The easy lesson this year is that Santa Monican’s continue to support local education and affordable housing. We think there are some additional nuggets buried in the 2016 results.

Locals decide early

Vote by mail ballots are the first counted and the first results to be posted. This year, the vote-by-mail results were almost identical to the city at large and that’s a sign that even if voters think they’re undecided until election day, the late deciders are falling in line with the early birds. About half of the city’s registered voters requested vote by mail ballots and the trend is increasing with early voting centers in several places. Making elections more user friendly is great, but the bad news is savvy political operators might extend the political season by starting even earlier than in years past to influence that early decision process.

SMRR is dead, Long Live SMRR

Opposition voters have long bemoaned the power of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights in controlling local elections. However, what has become apparent is the organization is less important than the handful of individuals who helped found it.

SMRR’s endorsement wasn’t necessary for O’Day to win the most votes this year, but it’s hard to imagine he would have been so successful without the backing of other organizations backed by longtime SMRR advocates. Similarly, SMRR wasn’t an active opponent of Measure LV (the official position was “not to support”), but many opposition groups included folks with a deep SMRR history.

You can spin this as the nefarious tendrils of a cabal spreading throughout the community or you can say it’s the natural extension of the dominant political philosophy representing a majority of residents. Your view probably depends on if you think your side won or lost the election.

Incumbency is King

Aside from the Rent Control Board, incumbents swept the board this year. There’s always a lot of talk about how to get elected in Santa Monica but the most reliable indicator of winning an election is to have already won an election.

The outlier at RCB was Christopher Walton who filed paperwork but did not campaign for the position, even then he still ended the night with 17 percent of the vote.

If minority voices want to force change on the council, it doesn’t appear they can do it through he current election system and calls for term limits and/or district elections are likely to increase as a result.

Oscar de la Torre

At first pass, de la Torre’s results don’t look that impressive. He was sixth out of ten candidates ending the day about 570 votes behind Melkonians and about 5,000 votes short of winning a seat. However, that’s actually a remarkably strong showing and right on target for someone looking to win a seat in two years.

Melkonians actively campaigned, raised money and should have been boosted by the presence of Measure LV. However, de la Torre was less than a percentage point behind. De la Torre’s votes came without an active campaign, no fundraising and despite a relatively late entry into the field.

It’s not unusual to run a practice campaign before mounting a full-court press and it seems clear he has established a foundation for 2018.

2016 was a battle, not the war

Election code requires a year wait before a ballot measure can come back but Measure LV will rise again. In the meantime, locals should expect referendums aplenty. Potential targets could be any or all development issues such as adoption of the Downtown Community Plan, development at 4th/5th/Arizona, construction at the Civic Auditorium and hotel remodels.


The opinions expressed in SMDP editorials are those of the paper’s Editorial Board.