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The Press Democrat

Santa Rosa panel keeps cumulative vote plan: Voting official fails to sway charter review committee from quest to put issue before voters
By Mike McCoy
May 29, 2002

Santa Rosa's charter review committee is sticking to its proposal for a new method of electing City Council members despite contentions it could be difficult and costly to implement.

Janice Atkinson, Sonoma County's assistant registrar of voters, Tuesday told the committee that shifting to a cumulative-voting system could force the city to spend $1.5 million to buy its own voting machines and to hold its own election on a separate day from statewide elections in November.

Despite Atkinson's assessment, committee members declined to reconsider the issue, letting stand last week's 15-13 vote recommending that the council place the issue before voters in November.

Committee member Bob Flores told his colleagues not to be scared away from its decision by Atkinson's statements, arguing that should voters approve the shift in the way council members are elected it would not be implemented until the 2004 November election.

Flores said that would give the city plenty of time to find ways to reduce election costs and to see if elections can continue to be consolidated with state elections in November.

"We have a lot of time to figure out if it will work," Flores said.

Under the existing system, which is used throughout the state, if four council seats are up for election, each voter can cast one vote for each of four candidates.

Under cumulative voting, a voter could vote for four candidates or split votes, casting as many as four for one candidate.

The system, according to its proponents, would promote greater diversity among council members by diluting the ability of large groups to fill every seat while empowering smaller interest groups to consolidate their votes behind one or two candidates.

The council will decide which of the committee's recommendations to place before voters in November.

The committee's job is to make recommendations that it believes will make city government both more efficient and more representative.

The committee already has recommended substantial pay boosts for council members and the mayor, and suggested changes that will empower council members to make individual appointments to various city boards and commissions.

The two proposals are aimed at encouraging a wider array of candidates to run for office and to increase the racial, gender and geographic diversity of those who serve on city boards and commissions.

In an attempt to expand those goals, the committee Tuesday recommended that the council seek voter approval for formation of a 42-member Neighborhood Council.

The proposal by committee member Bill Carle is to create 14 districts, each with three council appointees who would meet quarterly to provide input on neighborhood issues.

Carle also won support for a proposal that would create campaign spending limits and provide public funding for candidates.

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