By Andy Cohen
Today is the first—but not likely the last—in the special election to determine who will fill out the vacated first term of former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. This is an absolutely crucial election. Voters last fall chose a candidate who represented a decidedly progressive agenda over his opponent, who represented an extremely conservative agenda.
Bob Filner was a flawed candidate when he ran for mayor in 2012. Everyone knew it—we just didn’t know how flawed. But Carl DeMaio was an equally flawed candidate. So the choice in the 2012 mayoral election came down to which candidate best represented the values of San Diego voters; after decades of conservative, Republican structured leadership, San Diego voters decided that it was high time for a change. They chose a new way of doing business at City Hall. They chose an emphasis on communities over an emphasis on Downtown. They chose fairness over favoritism. They chose people over corporations (and no, corporations are not people).
As voters head to the polls today, they face a similar choice: Do they vote for a return to the ways of previous administrations, where the wealthy business interests based Downtown will once again drive the policy agenda in whatever direction they wish it to go, or do they stick with their choice from last November and choose a mayor who is going to put his constituents first, who will stand up for the “little guy?” Will the city vote where its voter registration numbers say it will? Or will the election swing in the Republican direction, despite the fact that Republicans have 90,000 fewer registered voters in the City of San Diego, and more than 12,000 fewer than Decline-to-State? Speaking of the DTS voters, what will they do? Who do they break for?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for the Democratic candidates to clear is actually getting people to the polls to cast their ballots. This is a special election—and off year election. Special elections are typically low turnout affairs. People decide they have better things to do than to spend 5 minutes marking their ballots for the candidate that best represents their values. And that’s a shame, particularly in this most crucial of elections.
According to the National University Institute for Policy Research, voter turnout in this special election is expected to be very low. Nationwide low turnout elections typically favor Republicans. And in San Diego, that means a heavy advantage for the Republican candidate. In November, 2012, the so-called “Filner Coalition” driven by the neighborhoods located south of the 8 freeway, as opposed to the north of 8 voters, who tend to be more conservative, more “GOP friendly.” The 2012 election was widely viewed as a sea-change election, representing a complete turnaround in where voting majorities will come from.
However, according to the institute’s research, in November 2012, north of 8 voters represented 57% of the voting electorate. In the 2005 San Diego mayoral special election, those neighborhoods accounted for 70% of the votes cast, leading to a solid victory for Jerry Sanders over Donna Frye (54%-46%). The more Democratic leaning neighborhoods did not get to their polling places, and did not cast absentee ballots. The same is expected this time around.
In the 2005 mayoral primary special election, only 44% of San Diego voters cast their ballots. In the runoff between Sanders and Frye, that number rose to 55%, but that election was buoyed by a statewide special election with a number of widely publicized state propositions. Still, the GOP strongholds in the northern parts of the city drove the election, leading to Sanders’ decisive win.
Compare that to a 76% turnout for the 2012 presidential election, where oh-by-the-way we were also choosing our next mayor.
The question is, will the voters who have the most to lose in this election actually show up at the polls? NUIPR is projecting a 46% turnout, and although that’s significantly better than the less than 20% who showed up to elect Myrtle Cole in the San Diego City Council District 4 special election, that still might not be good enough. The institute is also reporting that out of 351,000 absentee ballots issued, only 24,000 had been returned, and mostly from the north of 8 neighborhoods.
The argument can be made that this is not the important election. The one coming up in February will be the most important election, since that’s where our mayor will actually be chosen. But that’s assuming there is a runoff; that’s assuming that the north of 8 voters don’t show up in large enough numbers to elect Kevin Faulconer outright with more than 50% of the vote. If turnout is low enough, it could happen.
We here at the San Diego Free Press are not exactly loath to admit our disdain for Kevin Faulconer the candidate (Kevin Faulconer the man is actually not a bad guy….it’s his policies that stink and are completely wrong for our city). But the only way to ensure that Faulconer does not become our next mayor is to get out and VOTE! Whether you’re voting for David Alvarez, Nathan Fletcher, or even Mike Aguirre, VOTE! And then vote again in February (or March, depending on when the primary election is certified).
If you don’t get out and vote, and you don’t like the results of the election, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. And judging by the projections, far too many of you will simply decide to sit this one out (I’m looking at you south of 8!). This election is far too important to allow that to happen.