Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Eureka Council to Consider Ward Maps, Implementing Ranked Choice Voting

Posted By on Tue, Nov 16, 2021 at 5:49 AM

The Eureka City Council is slated today to introduce an ordinance that will set the ball rolling on bringing a new system for electing representatives to serve behind the dais by next year’s general election.

And, on another election front, the council will also have a public hearing on redrawing ward boundaries, which happens every 10 years after the federal government publishes census data to ensure the populations of the wards are evenly distributed, a process also happening on the county and state level.

Other agenda items include a closed session discussion on the employment of the city attorney and a potential ordinance to “regulate the use of city-owned and city trust properties for storage and handling of coal and coal-related substances.”

Find the full agenda here.

Residents passed Measure C in November of 2020 to make the move to what’s known as ranked choice with just more than 61 percent of the vote. Rather than the traditional process of tallying an election, this method allows voters to rank candidates by preference. For example, in a three-person race, a voter would order the candidates as their first, second or third choice.

If any candidate were to receive a majority of "first" designations, the process ends there. However, if that doesn't happen, the person with the fewest "first" votes is out of the race and anyone who voted for them would have their second choice selection counted.

The process continues from there until one candidate takes a majority of the votes in the mayor and council races only and does not apply to county, state or federal offices, or to any ballot measures.

Currently, a Eureka candidate who receives the most votes wins, regardless of how many people are running or how close the race ends up.

"RCV is also called 'instant runoff' because it allows a majority winner to be determined in just one election," the impartial analysis of Measure C by City Attorney Robert Black states. "It is a substitute both for a separate runoff election and for a method in which a contest with more than two competitors can be won with the highest vote-getter having less than a majority."

Part of the ordinance before the council tonight directs Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Pam Powell, who serves as the city’s election official, to coordinate with the Humboldt County Registrar of Voters to implement ranked choice voting for November of 2022 general election “if that implementation is feasible.”

That includes providing ballots that “allow voters to rank not less than three candidates, including write-in candidates, in order of preference” and having the “ballots for each seat must be counted in rounds.”

The seats for wards 1, 3 and 5 — currently held by Leslie Castellano, Natalie Arroyo and Kim Bergel, respectively — as well as the position of mayor, currently held by Susan Seaman, are up for election next November.

The ordinance also states that ranked choice voting “will commence not later than the 2024 General Municipal Election and continue thereafter for all general municipal elections.”

Other California cities that use the ranked choice system include San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro.

The move over to ranked choice is the latest major change to elections in Eureka.

Back in 2016, residents approved ward-only elections for council members, with the mayor continuing to be selected by a citywide vote. With that vote, in 2018 — for the first time since the Prohibition era — Castellano, Arroyo and Bergel  won their seats based solely on votes from those who lived within the geographical boundaries of the ward they represent.

As part of the switch to ward-only elections, the city drew new lines for the wards and will now go through the process again in response to the 2020 census.

Tonight’s meeting will include the third of four public hearings on proposed minor adjustments. Two in October included the review of six maps — one recommended by staff and five others suggested by members of the public, according to the agenda — with the council moving the staff recommend version forward.

None of the current councilmember’s seats are impacted by the proposed changes.

The regular session begins at 6 p.m. and members of the public can now attend in person or view the meeting via Zoom. Find more information on how to attend remotely here.

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Kimberly Wear

Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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