Ojai is considering a different type of voting system that impacts how voters select candidates, how votes are counted and what some political scientists say will greatly help voter turnout.
On Wednesday, July 27, the Ojai City council will decide whether to offer voters the choice of Ranked Choice Voting for Ojai city elected offices including city council, mayor, treasurer and clerk.
At the direction of council, city staff have prepared two resolutions that, if a majority of council agrees, would put two measures on the November 8, 2022 ballot. First, a measure regarding ranked choice voting and second, a measure reverting the mayor’s seat back to an appointed position - selected by five elected council members, rather than the current system, chosen by voters in 2016, in which the mayor is elected. If the council moves forward with one or both ballot measures, and if approved by voters, the changes would go into effect in the 2024 November General Election.
The item is on the agenda for a Special Meeting set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, that will take place in person at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St., and online at:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85432580220?pwd=WWRGcnJKU1-1,ZMY216VnYrS0aTy9adz09. Viewers can also watch the meeting live streamed at the city’s YouTube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/user/ojaicity
“We haven't had a full election with the district voting in full effect, but it has caused confusion on more minor scales. So, I think it's definitely worth starting the discussion about the ranked voting,” said Council Member Ryan Blatz. “And we can see what works best for Ojai.”
“The system isn't broken, why would we fix it? ” said Mayor Pro Tem Randy Haney.
Blatz and Haney were speaking with the Ojai Valley News on July 25. At meetings in May and April the council voted to direct staff to prepare a resolution and bring the issue back to council to consider changing to Ranked Choice Voting.
According to American political scientist Lee Drutman, San Francisco marked the beginning of the modern wave of ranked choice voting in the United States aimed at improving voter turnout, which has seen an uptick in popularity over the past ten years.
Ranked Choice Voting - How it works
With Ranked Choice Voting, voters rank candidates indicating their first choice, second, third, for as many candidates listed on the ballot. For a race with a single candidate, like city clerk, the first choice selections are counted first. If a candidate gets over 50% of the first choice votes that candidate is elected to that seat. If no candidate received over 50% of the first choice votes, then the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Those who voted for the eliminated candidate as their first choice will then have their second choice counted. The process continues until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote.
For races with multiple seats, like a city council, the threshold to win the seat is adjusted based on the number of seats.
If adopted in Ojai, Ranked Choice Voting would replace the current district based voting system making all city council seats elected by a citywide or at-large vote.
In 2014 Ojai voters chose to switch to an elected mayor, which was implemented in 2016. Prior to that, five at-large (city wide) elected city council members would select the mayor from among the give elected council members.
On Wednesday the council will consider asking voters to affirm the switch to an elected mayor, or to revert back to an appointed mayor.
According to the city staff report, if the public votes to enact both the appointed mayor measure and the ranked choice voting, the new process would be used to elect the city council members, clerk and treasurer seats starting in 2024, and all seats would be elected at-large thus eliminating the current by-district voting system.
The current by-district voting system would also be eliminated if voters were presented with and approved only the ranked choice voting option, leaving the Mayor an elected seat. Ranked choice would take effect in November 2024 for an at-large mayor (two-year term) and four council members (four year term).
However, if voters are given the choice, and approve reverting to an appointed mayor, but reject ranked choice voting, then the city would need to complete a redistricting process shifting from the current four districts (In effect for November 2022) to create five districts, which would each elect a city council member. Two of those districts would elect city council members in November 2024 and that council as elected in 2024 would appoint a mayor from the council.
The staff report notes that state law regarding district voting may shift pending a current court case (Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica) that could allow the city to avoid the district-based election requirement all together.
If the council opts to not put either measure on the ballot, or the voters were to reject any proposed changes, the current system would remain in place.
Update, July 27: The city has added an additional agenda item to the July 27 meeting to receive an update on the Parks and Recreation Ad Hoc Committee on pickleball and acoustical consultant engagement, including possible direction regarding use of city facilities for summer pickleball use.
The July 27 meeting agenda and staff report (click yellow highlighted agenda item to access report) are online at:https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iWV245NFEc8_NFkHLwxPGL_EP7BxzdIE/view
Kimberly Rivers, reporter for the Ojai Valley News contributed to this story.