Sunday Commentary: How the National Scene Might Affect Local June Elections

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Could Bernie Sanders make Nishi far more likely to pass?
Could Bernie Sanders make Nishi far more likely to pass?

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: How the National Scene Might Affect Local June Elections”

  1. CalAg

    “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.”

    And yet here we are … just days before the City Council votes to approve the entitlements and sends this incomplete mess on to the voters for ratification … and the key documents (the development agreement and baseline project features) are not even close to finalized.

    Is there a deliberate effort to make this process as untransparent as possible? That’s what it’s beginning to look like.

    Here’s an idea.

    Before the City Council punts, complete a credible fiscal analysis, resolve the questions about the legality of the affordable housing exemption, address the EIR traffic study results that a show level-of-service of “F” on the Richards corridor, finalize the baseline project features and include clear unambiguous language stating what the developer has agreed to, eliminate all the contingencies and fuzzy language from the development agreement (it’s a contract and should not be open to interpretation), etc.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “this process as untransparent as possible? That’s what it’s beginning to look like.”

      There is the three and a half month campaign

    2. Don Shor

      the key documents (the development agreement and baseline project features) are not even close to finalized.

      I’m more than willing to bet they will be finalized in time to be on the agenda for the next meeting. Also, you probably won’t find them acceptable, and you’ll still oppose the project.
      And I suggest you ask Robb Davis if he or his fellow council members are “deliberately” being “untransparent.” Do you need his email address? Phone number? They’re pretty easy to find, and he’s very approachable.

    1. hpierce

      Depends what you mean by the ‘youth vote’… I attended UCD for 5 years… never voted in Davis local elections, as I did not think I was “vested” enough to have a hand in deciding how the City/County would live their future… at that time, (mid-70’s) there was a real push by some to annex the dorms, so the liberal “voice” would be overwhelming…

      2 and a half years later, when I returned to Davis, I realized that perhaps I erred…

      One of the significant reasons why one should not trust the Davis “voter turn-out rates”, is that activists (primarily ‘liberal’) get many students to register to vote in Davis… but the rules for cancelling voters from the rolls, even after they leave the City is “funky”… you have to fail to vote for 3-4 general elections before the county puts you on the “inactive” list, and then you are still a “registered voter”… as a poll-worker, when I’ve been in a precinct that had a lot of ‘student apartments’, there were many times where I’d see 4-8 “voters” at the same address (including apt #’s) on the rolls, and the person voting did not know of anyone else living at their particular address… so the denominator in the voter turnout calc. is questionable.  I suspect maybe 5% of Davisites “get” this.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    “Is there a deliberate effort to make this process as untransparent as possible?”

    The answer to this question would seem to be Yes, and the question would seem to apply to state and federal politics as well. The machine is doing all it can to grease the skids for its cog, Hillary; and on the Republican side, the line-up had to be conjured out of someone’s acid-induced nightmare. Does anyone believe that voting in California for a national office is worth the walk, or drive, to the polling place?

    Things are just as bad at the state level. Why do we tolerate the Gavin Newsom’s of the political word? Competence and honesty are antiquated requirements for state officials, so what’s the point of bothering to vote for any of them?

    However, there could still be hope at the local level. Turning hope into progress at this level is possible and requires relentless demand for transparency and a ruthless willingness to spotlight naked emperors. Unlike the local fish wrap, the Vanguard is doing a credible job of that.

  3. Frankly

    Why do we tolerate the Gavin Newsom’s of the political word?

    Good question.  I would be embarrassed voting for proven dishonest professional politicians.   So I don’t.

    Competence and honesty are antiquated requirements for state officials, so what’s the point of bothering to vote for any of them?

    I agree with the honesty point, but what is your measurment of competence?  I have friends that lean ideologically left that seem to value technocrats over what I would consider true leaders.   Gray Davis was a prime example.  Based on his resume you would say that he had all the government-experience required.  But he was a major disappointment and a giant fail.  He was not a qualified leader.

    Our democratic representative government design, I think, should not value career politicians over regualar citizens that demonstrate leadership capability.

     

     

     

  4. Don Shor

    I believe 82% of the delegates will be selected by May. Looking at the primary and caucus map and her huge establishment advantage, Clinton will probably be unstoppable by then for the nomination.  So IMO it’s unlikely that the Democratic race will still be contested enough in June for turnout to be hugely increased among young voters.

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