The question of whether San Diego City Council members should be elected only by their district has been before the voters four times since 1969, and each time the proposal was defeated.
We hope the outcome this November for Proposition E will be different.
The city’s hybrid system, in which two candidates are chosen by voters in their district in the primary and then face a citywide runoff, is inherently unfair because it allows the loser in the district to win the seat. Four people who now sit on the council were defeated within their own districts. That hardly seems in the spirit of representative government.
All in all, the arguments in favor of district elections outweigh the dangers of the parochialism that might result.
What distinguishes this year’s district election effort, however, is that a change in the city’s election system may be in the wind regardless of the outcome of Proposition E. Earlier this year, the Chicano Federation filed suit in federal court arguing that at-large elections and an inequitable distribution of councilmanic districts have disenfranchised Latino voters. The suit points to the fact that no Latino has been elected to the council without first having been appointed, despite the fact that 15% of San Diego’s population is Latino.
That suit may have gotten a judicial boost this summer when the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that at-large elections in Watsonville, Calif., were perpetuating discrimination against Latinos.
The winds of electoral change are blowing hard throughout the Southwest. In city after city, at-large elections are giving way to fairer forms of representation. This November, San Diegans can put an end to an election system that has outlived its value.
We urge a yes vote on Proposition E.