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Santa Barbara Takes Step Toward Even-Year City Elections

The Santa Barbara City Council took the first step Tuesday toward adopting even-year elections as the council agreed to have staff develop a plan for the change.  

The council has historically had off-year city elections, with the idea that voters would be able to focus more squarely on local candidates and measures, without competition from the array of contests and initiatives typically on even-year ballots.

But the same California Voting Rights Act that forced the city to move toward district elections now requires the city to move to even-year elections, to boost voter turnout

The law states that a city must hold even-year elections if the voter turnout for any odd-year city election is 25 percent or more below the average turnout in the last four statewide general elections.

Santa Barbara’s odd-year election turnout is about 55 percent below the average turnout in the last four statewide elections.

Council members on Tuesday voted 6-1 to develop a plan for the move to even-year elections, with Councilman Frank Hotchkiss voting against it.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne believes that the city is on strong footing to resist the even-year election order because Santa Barbara is a charter city.

If the city were to lose a legal challenge, however, it would have to plaintiff litigation fees, which could be substantial.

Since Santa Barbara is a charter city, the council plans to put the matter before voters in November 2018.

Although the ballot language still needs to be worked out, the item will ask voters whether they support a move to even-year-elections, with the understanding that the next batch of council members would serve five-year terms, on a one-time basis, to even everything out. 

The issue is expected to be back at the City Council on Dec. 5 for a formal vote on the plan, and ballot language. 

“I support even-year elections,” Councilman Gregg Hart said. “We should do it as soon as possible. More people vote.”

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo, who won the mayor's race last week, agreed.

“Getting more people to vote makes sense,” she said. 

A majority of the council, whether they want to or not, believes it is time to move to even-year-elections. 

“I prefer off-cycle elections, but the handwriting is on the wall to move toward even years,” Councilman Harwood “Bendy” White said.

Councilman Randy Rowse agreed with White. 

“The off-year elections do allow us to focus on specific city issues, but I am not willing to fight City Hall on this,” Rowse said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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