‘Diluting the debate’: City officials discuss why Berkeley elections do not take place in June

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Rachael Garner/File

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On Tuesday, thousands of Californians voted on county, state and national issues in the primary election — Berkeley city issues, however, did not grace Tuesday’s ballot.

In 1982, Berkeley voters approved a ballot initiative to change the date of the municipal elections from April to November in order to increase voter turnout, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

Laurie Capitelli, a former city councilmember for District 5, said presidential elections typically garner the highest voter turnout, while local issues can get lost among the statewide and nationwide issues.

“It does have the impact of diluting the debate, of spreading our energy thinner,” Capitelli said. “How many people go to the end of their ballot versus just voting for president, senator and maybe their local Assembly member?”

Community members also approved Measure I in 2004, changing the date of mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections, according to Berkeley’s city charter. Berkeley voters can cast their ballots for city candidates, such as those running for City Council or the Rent Stabilization Board, and vote on city measures in November’s general election.

City Council can choose to put local measures on June’s ballot, according to Worthington, but it could cost the city “a couple hundred thousand” dollars. In contrast, it would cost about $25,000 to add an initiative to November’s ballot, Worthington said.

“It would be extremely expensive to have a whole election for one ballot measure,” Worthington said. “Unless there is some urgent crisis that you have to put it on in June  — financially it doesn’t make sense.”

Worthington added that holding city elections in June is “very anti-student,” considering that many UC Berkeley students go home for the summer.

Capitelli, however, said it appears students have a low voter turnout. In 2014, a court ruling allowed the city to create a student supermajority district, District 7, at the request of a “strong and vocal group of students,” according to Capitelli. Yet there were fewer than 2,000 votes cast in one particular election from District 7, and voters from other municipalities typically cast about 8,000 votes, Capitelli said.

Capitelli said although there is no specific data that demonstrates a low voter turnout from students, District 7’s numbers compared to those of other districts are telling. He later qualified that students might have voted in their hometown instead of in Berkeley.

Worthington, though, said a presidential or gubernatorial race would encourage voters to look into other positions and candidates.

“It’s not their primary focus, but I think a lot of voters really sit down a week before the election, or sometimes the night before, and look at the stack of all the things that came in the mail,” Worthington said.

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected]g and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.

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