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Ballots List Council Incumbent O'Donnell First In Mainly High Voter Turnout Eastern Parts of District While Ballots In District's Western Areas List Challenger Supernaw First. How'd That Happen?


(May 11, 2012) -- Ballots in Long Beach's June 5 City Council runoff -- in which 4th dist. Councilman Patrick O'Donnell is seeking a third term against challenger Daryl Supernaw list incumbent O'Donnell first mainly in high voter-turnout eastern parts of the district (including Los Altos), while the ballot order is reversed in western areas of the district.

Voters in the greenish marked eastern areas of the 4th Council district will receive ballots showing O'Donnell's name listed first, while voters in the brownish marked areas will see Supernaw's name listed first.

How did this happen? On Feb. 1, 2011, the City Council heard an item agendized by Councilman James Johnson, joined by Councilmembers Dee Andrews and Steven Neal, requesting an ordinance that would institute ballot rotation "in order to enhance the integrity and fairness of our local elections." Councilman Johnson's agendizing memo for the item stated in pertinent part:

To the extent possible, the election of local representatives should be based on the merit of the candidates, as assessed by the electorate. While this is generally the case in Long Beach, the current practice of allowing a candidate to be listed first on all ballots currently gives some candidates an unfair advantage that should be eliminated to maintain an even playing field.

...On average, California City Council and School Board candidates listed first on the ballot are 5.6% more likely to win their election as a result of their ballot position (see attached analysis of the California Elections Data Archive [CEDA] results from 1996 to 2005 as gathered by Meredith and Salant from the Stanford Institute For Economic Policy Research, page 15, as highlighted.) This is significant enough to change the outcome in future elections and make future representatives the result of chance, not merit.

Many jurisdictions have eliminated this problem by introducing ballot rotation, in which candidates rotate their position on the ballot. All counties, including Los Angeles County, require ballot rotation to ensure fair elections. (California Elections Code Sections 13111-13114) We should require the same high standard in our municipal elections...

The Council voted to refer the issue of ballot rotation to the Council's Election Oversight Committee (Garcia, DeLong, Schipske), which considered the issue on Sept. 27, 2011 recommended implementing it (2-0, Schipske absent). On December 6, 2011, the City Council voted 6-1 (Schipske dissenting; Garcia and Gabelich absent) to implement a ballot rotation system (item was moved by O'Donnell, seconded by DeLong). The ordinance (subsequently drafted by the City Attorney's office) specified ballot rotation would be applied as a "pilot project" in June, 2012 elections. The City Council voted to enact it by votes on March 20, 2012 (8-0, DeLong absent) and April 3, 2012 (8-0, Andrews absent).

The Council-enacted ordinance was silent about considering voter propensity in applying the ballot rotation system. The ordinance specified in pertinent part:

...In the case of elections for councilmanic offices, the names of the candidates shall be placed on the ballot by the City Clerk in "clusters" as defined below. In the cluster designated "Cluster No.1," the names of the candidates shall be placed on the ballot by the City Clerk in accordance with the randomized alphabet drawing pursuant to California Elections Code Section 13113. Thereafter, for each succeeding cluster, the name appearing first in the last preceding cluster shall be placed last, the order of the names remaining unchanged. In the event that the number of candidates exceeds the number of clusters, this process will repeat with "Cluster No.1" and so forth.

For purposes of this section, a "cluster" shall consist of one or more precincts which need not be contiguous. The clusters of precincts shall be numbered in consecutive order for purposes of ballot rotation of candidates' names, and the City Clerk shall list the clusters by number and identify which precincts are in each cluster. No cluster shall vary more than 10 percent in the number of registered voters from other clusters in the same councilmanic district. The number of clusters in each councilmanic district shall equal the number of candidates nominated pursuant to California Elections Code Section 10220 for that councilmanic election, provided however, that the number of clusters shall not exceed five (5) in each councilmanic district.

Within seven (7) days of the date of a Primary Nominating Election, the City Clerk shall request that the Secretary of State conduct a randomized alphabet drawing pursuant to California Elections Code Section 13113. The results of such drawing shall determine the order on the ballot of the candidates' names for the General Election, in accordance with this Section.

...This amendment to Section 1.21.060 of the Long Beach Municipal Code is hereby approved as a pilot program to assist the City of Long Beach to determine the effectiveness of a ballot rotation system and shall only be in effect for the June 2012 election...

In the April 10, 2012 city elections, Supernaw finished first, O'Donnell (write-in) second and Watkins third...sending Supernaw and O'Donnell into a June 5 runoff. On April 16, the Secretary of State's office provided LB with a Randomized Alphabet Draw for the June 5 election in which "S" (Supernaw) received draw 2 (near the top) while O (O'Donnell) received draw 22 (near the bottom).

City Clerk Larry Herrera says in an email that his office asked City Hall's Technology Services Department to create two "clusters" of precincts within the 10% threshold specified in the Council's April 3 ordinance. On April 23, the City Clerk's office received the two "clusters" from Tech Services and accepted them as presented [reflected in the map, above].

The Council-enacted ordinance was silent -- it didn't require -- that precincts be contiguous. The ordinance stated the opposite: that precincts need not be contiguous.

The City Clerk's office went on to assign Ballot Rotation 1 (Supernaw listed first) to Area 1 and Ballot Rotation 2 (O'Donnell listed first) to Area 2. The Council-enacted ordinance was silent regarding voter turnout, not specifying whether the City Clerk should consider or not consider voter turnout in applying the ballot rotation system.

The net effect: voters in Area 1 (western half with traditionally lower voter turnout) will receive ballots listing Supernaw first, while voters in Area 2 (eastern end, including Los Altos with traditionally higher voter turnout) will receive ballots listing O'Donnell first.

As indicated above, the ballot rotation system (initially proposed by Councilmembers Johnson, Andrews and Neal in Feb. 2011) was advanced as a way to maintain an even playing field and to ensure that no candidate receives an unfair advantage.

For the record: in the April 10 election, O'Donnell's name wasn't printed on any ballots: he ran a write-in campaign under a provision of LB's term limits law. Supernaw was listed second...and finished first against O'Donnell and John Watkins.

The candidate who prevails in June (like all Councilmembers) will have a vote on development, spending and policy issues impacting residents and taxpayers citywide.

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