I note an article in the local paper which argues that we have seen a decline of voter turnout in local elections. They note, “In 2000, 69 percent of Davis voters cast their ballot, while elections in the ’90s typically saw 56 percent voter turnout. In the 1980s, that number averaged 54 percent.”
The article, however, fails to note the context of these elections. For instance, the 2000 election took place in March alongside two contested Presidential primaries that were moved up to March in order to give California more stake in the process. The Republicans had George W. Bush facing a strong challenge by John McCain, while the Democrats had Vice President Al Gore facing off against former Senator Bill Bradley.
So yes, under those circumstance, we would expect a large turnout and we got one.
By 2008, the Presidential primary was even earlier – February 5, 2008, on Super Tuesday, so named for the outbreak of deadly tornadoes, mostly in the Southern states. However, the city council election was back to its normal June date. That meant that the city council election was cut off from national politics. So, even with a heavily-contested state Assembly campaign, only 40 percent of registered voters turned out.
In 2012, we were back to having a June Presidential primary, but that June, the contest was well-decided on the Republican side and Barack Obama was unchallenged on the Democratic side – which in Davis represents two-thirds to three-quarters of the voters. The result was that a slightly higher but still low 45 percent of voters showed up that time.
In 2014, there was no Presidential election and no contested governor election either, so it is not surprising that we had record low turnouts, with the council election drawing just 39 percent of the vote.
That figures to change this year. The question will be really by how much. By the time California votes on June 7, 44 states will have already held primaries and caucuses. However, if the Iowa caucuses are any indication, with as close as both sides appear to be, the nominations may not be sealed by then.
A California contested primary in June may not draw 69 percent of the vote. In fact, by 2008, the February primary only drew 59.5 percent – countywide. Davis would have been higher than that. But that’s a far cry from the 39 percent who came out in 2014.
The biggest impact may not be on the city council elections, but rather on Nishi. In the public discussion, one of the questions that has come up is what’s the rush? The developer quickly shoots back that there is no rush, that Nishi has been in the works for some time. But that answer is somewhat evasive – the fact is, there is an urgency to get the matter ready to be on the June ballot.
The biggest driver on that is probably the desire to go before the Mace Ranch Innovation Center, which may or may not be ready by November.
Some have suggested to me that their best course of action would to be to go in November when students are likely or at least more likely to turn out for the Presidential election. As we see in the article today – support from ASUCD, support from many students – students are clearly going to be a critical factor in pushing Nishi over the top.
You’ll recall that the Davis residents were fairly evenly divided on Target ten years ago – in fact, maybe even leaning against Target, but the student voters pushed the local measure over the top, as they had a clear need for a cheap and accessible retail store.
Target was a November election, but November has often proven difficult to get students to register to vote, given the short window between their arrival on campus and election deadlines. That now goes away, however, with new laws such as online registration and same day registration, so that may be a smaller issue.
The biggest potential windfall for Nishi going in June rather than November may turn out, ironically, to be a little socialist Presidential candidate from Vermont. Bernie Sanders has been a huge draw for young voters and, if the primary season remains alive come June, we may see huge numbers of young voters coming out to support Bernie Sanders, and many of them will vote for Nishi.
The Sanders factor could have interesting down ticket ramifications in June, should his prospects for nomination remain alive. While this has certainly been an unusual campaign season, it seems like a longshot, at least at this point, that Bernie Sanders would actually win the nomination – but I would not completely foreclose on that possibility.
In our view, Nishi may well have its best chance of winning in June if a large student voter bloc comes forward to support Bernie Sanders.
Regardless of who ends up the nominee, presidential elections generate more student interest than off-year elections. As a result, it would behoove Mace Ranch Innovation Center to get their ducks in a row for November when more students are likely to turn out. Their next window would be a spring 2017 Special Election, when students are least likely to turn out.
Like Nishi, Mace Ranch – with or without the housing – is likely to generate support from students, many of whom will see future job possibilities at the research park site.
There is one other point about a June election. Should Bernie Sanders remain in the running, in typical years students have run for city council. In 2004 it was Lamar Heystek, Rob Roy ran in 2006 and Daniel Watts in 2008, a law student ran in 2010, and, in 2014, student Daniel Parrella was a candidate.
If there is a record turnout of students for Bernie Sanders, that could make a student city council candidate at least viable. That is at least another factor to consider.
Right now, we believe the biggest impact on Nishi would be from a surge of student voters, but that can change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting