Santa Barbara’s City Council is wrestling with how future City Council vacancies should be filled and how to increase voter turnout.
The various proposals are too nuanced and numerous to unpack here, but suffice to say that deliberations are so mired that City Attorney Calonne has been asked to figure out how to prevent future incumbents from stating that they are, in fact, incumbents. “It raises an interesting First Amendment question,” deadpanned our City Attorney — a longtime champion of free political speech.
Rather than try to thread a semantic needle between constitutionally protected political speech and direct voter participation in the selection of representatives, I propose that our city consider:
Employing a ranked choice voting system. Ranked choice tends to increase the number of candidates — especially women and minorities — as well as voter turnout.
An ordinance automatically filling any council vacancy with the second place finisher from the previous election. Special elections are unwieldy and expensive. The politicization of special appointments makes them inherently flawed. The public deserves a representative who actually went through the campaign process. (In the interests of full disclosure, this change would put me in the District Six council seat, if applied retroactively.)
Let’s make our local political system more open and transparent. Let’s simplify how we fill vacancies. Let’s put ranked-choice voting on the City Council’s agenda.
Oh yeah, and let’s not ask our City Attorney try to advise us how to circumvent the Constitution.