Burbank ponders dropping primary

Burbank officials have proposed axing the city's primary election, a move they say would save roughly $72,000 a year, but would also require voter approval.

Critics called the proposal "short-sighted," but election experts said it may actually bring more voters to the polls.

POLL: Shoudl Burbank axe its primary election?

Burbank is one of just about 15 cities in the state that has more than one election, according to a city report. Neighboring cities Glendale, Pasadena and La Cañada-Flintridge are among the more than 460 cities in California with just one.

The last time in Burbank that the primary results differed, in terms of top vote-getters, from those of the general election was in 1989, when the second top-vote getter in the primary won the treasurer seat in the general election, according to Deputy City Clerk Susan Domen. A similar change in results occurred in the Burbank Unified school board race in 1983.

Dora Kingsley Vertenten, a USC professor and elections expert, said primary elections are valuable when political parties are involved, but it's not really necessary on a local level.

Plus, she said, getting rid of the primary could boost voter participation.

"There are lots of arguments that voter fatigue comes from having too many elections," Vertenten said.

Since November, Burbank voters have been asked to participate in four different elections.

"By consolidating opportunities, people are more inclined to make sure that they vote," Vertenten added.

But the proposal didn't sit well with some former candidates and current elected officials, who felt the primary election should be preserved.

"I think it's important to save the primary," said newly elected Councilman Bob Frutos. "It gives [voters] more time to understand and know the candidates."

While Burbank Unified school board President Dave Kemp said he supports the city's current system, he wouldn't see an advantage in the board race piggybacking on another election. And it was not immediately clear whether the board would even be able to do so.

Steve Ferguson, who ran for a seat on the Burbank Unified school board this year and is currently working on a Los Angeles City Council race campaign, called the proposal "short-sighted."

Some races could have more than a dozen candidates, and the votes may be too spread out to indicate voter consensus, he said.

The current system "forces candidates not just to appeal to either their social cliques or to their community groups, but it forces them to build consensus," Ferguson said.

"Conceivably, with our 12,000 average [voter] turn out, you can elect somebody with 2,000 votes," he added, noting that he would question that candidate's ability to lead with authority.

But Interim City Manager Ken Pulskamp disagreed.

"I think the cream rises to the top," he said. "Electorates, they know who they want. You can ask them once, you can ask them twice, three, four times, they're going to give you the same answer."

And former City Council candidate David Nos, who is considering running again in 2015, said the Burbank primary is expensive and draws out the election.

Feedback he received indicated that voters want to vote once and "get it over with," he said.

"The campaign is strenuous as it is," Nos said. "If you can save money and streamline the process to get more people to vote, I'm all for it."

On May 23, the City Council is scheduled to discuss whether to introduce a ballot measure to eliminate the primary election, since any change to the city's Charter would require voter approval.


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