The California Supreme Court has now sent the Santa Monica case involving at-large vs. district voting back to the Court of Appeals. The City is spending lots of money that it really can’t afford to fight this case. Moreover, the case is turning into a “Bleak House” style endless lawsuit. Are we now going to have more historical experts arguing about events in the 1940s or 1990s with little actual relevance to today’s realities? Will we have more experts with statistical analysis of this or that election? And then, when the Court of Appeals rules however it does, will we have yet another appeal to the state Supreme Court?
The fact is that at-large voting doesn’t work well in Santa Monica where most people don’t pay much attention to local politics and where the top 3 or 4 candidates “win.” Voters are given 3 or 4 votes to sprinkle around a list of names. Now that there’s big money riding on local elections, the winners tend to be those with money for yard signs and mailers that achieve some vague name recognition among voters. Was the fourth-ranked candidate who got, say 10% of the vote really much preferred over the fifth with 9.9%? Maybe at-large was OK in the past, but now that big money is involved in local elections, we need voting reform.
Come on city council! Cut the losses and settle this lawsuit. No more experts. No more statistical analysis. No more money for high-priced law firms. If you really think that there needs to be an elected official with a city-wide rather than a neighborhood interest, then propose a district system with an at-large elected mayor. I can’t tell you who will win with district elections. But there will be a more level playing field for all candidates, more grass roots organizing, and those who can present a more appealing platform – even if they don’t have a lot of money – will have a better chance.
Daniel J.B. Mitchell, Santa Monica