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Local Voters Fail to Exercise Choices, Study Finds

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

June 1 With four City Council seats up for grabs in November, many Santa Monicans will likely elect not to use all the votes allotted them, a newly released study suggests.

Nearly 35 percent of all local voters chose to "undervote" in the last three City council elections according to a study published last week by a group dedicated to changing the City's current voting system.

"When over a third of Santa Monicans are not fully utilizing their votes, there is a serious flaw in the system," said Julie Walters, co-founder of Santa Monica Ranked Voting, which was formed to push for local voter reform.

Under the current election system -- known as block voting -- "a strong preference" for one candidate can discourage a voter from casting more than one of their votes, since a vote for one of their other choices would help defeat their favorite candidate, the study found.

"Although many voters recognize that the current system leads to strategic voting," Walters said, "we think that Santa Monicans will be surprised when they learn how widespread this problem really is."

In the 1998 and 2002 city council elections, between 22,000 and 25,000 votes were not cast. Those numbers were almost double in 2000, as nearly 55,000 votes were withheld from local ballot boxes, the study found.

The group, however, believes it has a solution. "Choice voting would correct this problem," said Walters.

Under a choice voting system, if a voter's favorite candidate is not elected, then that person's vote would fall to their next choice until a winner is determined.

The group also advocates using a similar method for single-seat elections to shore up what it deems as flaws in the election system.

At least two current council members -- Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown and Michael Feinstein -- have supported these proposed changes, as has the Santa Monica League of Women Voters, the group said.

For more information visit www.smrankedvoting.org.
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