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Prop. A contains two important, unopposed amendments to city charter

Amid more highly contested measures including congressional and city council races, a district attorney seat up for grabs and the Barrio Logan community plan update on the June 3 ballot sits Proposition A, an uncontested item that contains two changes to the San Diego City Charter surrounding election timing.

The first amendment would push back inauguration day for a new mayor, council member or city attorney from the current “first Monday after the first day of December next succeeding the election,” to “the 10th day of December,” unless the 10th is a weekend or holiday, in which case the swearing-in would be on the following calendar day that’s not a holiday or weekend.

The second proposed update extends the deadline for a special run-off election for mayor or a City Council seat if no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote, from within 49 days of the special election to up to 90 days after.

Though there was some speculation that these proposed changes arose after the sexual harassment scandal involving then-mayor Bob Filner led to a special election and then a run-off, and inconsistencies with the dates were called into question, City Clerk Liz Maland said the changes were actually in their early stages well before this incident, when her office noticed that updates to state law now conflicted with the city’s charter.

“We brought this forward in March 2013, when nobody was aware of anything regarding Filner,” Maland said. “We have for years gone through to try and outline different changes in the charter to stay abreast of current state law.”

The instigating change for this charter update was AB 1805, which took effect Jan. 1, 2013, and stated that ballots must be mailed to military and overseas voters no later than 45 days before an election. In practicality, however, it must be 46 days prior, becuase 45 days before a Tuesday election almost always falls on a Saturday, according to Maland.

Maland said the 28 days the registrar of voters has to certify the initial election results, plus the 46 days prior to the run-off for mailing ballots, well exceeded the 49-day period that the city charter allowed for a run-off.

“That’s what drove us to be as expeditious as we possibly could and to address this as quickly as we could,” Maland said. “You can see the issue is there’s not enough time for all state laws to be met with regard to special elections. So on the ballot we asked for up to 90 days to give enough time for the registrar to certify the votes, and the ballots to be printed and translated to meet thhe 46-day requirement. We never want to disenfranchise any voters; we want them all to participate.”

Since this was a necessary change, Maland said, the Office of the City Clerk looked into other issues to address while cleaning up this discrepancy, and focused on the inauguration date.

She said there have been times since her appointment in 2005 when the 28 days to certify votes bumped right up against the first Monday after Dec. 1 date set in the charter, which is clearly a concern in close or highly contested races.

Then Senate Bill 29, which was referred to the committee in March 2013, attempted to extend the time that election officials have to submit the certified statement of results to 30 days after the election, which would cause more problems with the inauguration in the future.

This bill didn’t pass, but Maland said it’s clear that there are additional bills in the same vein in the pipeline, so it was best to resolve the issue now and set the swearing-in of new officials for the 10th of December.

“The problem we’ve had in many areas of the city charter is the document was largely written back in 1931, and there have been piecemeal changes, but it hasn’t kept up with state law,” said Sharon Spivak, a deputy city attorney who worked on crafting the language of the amendments and helped conduct the impartial analysis of the proposition.

“There were state and federal legal requirements that conflicted with dates in our city charter,” Spivak said. “The biggest problem we had was we had a hard date to swear in our mayor and councilors and attorney, and yet we have more time to certify the results and can’t swear in until votes are certified, so we were always stressed about not making it.”

The Proposition A ballot summary states that this measure would have no fiscal impact on the city, though Spivak noted that it could potentially save the city money in some cases.

“On the special election front, there’s language that will allow us to consolidate the special election with another election held within a certain timeframe, and we extended the dates within that,” Spivak said. “It gives us the possibility to add these into other elections if they arise at the same time, and may save us money.”

No argument against Proposition A was filed with the city clerk, and, in fact, Maland said throughout the three meetings she and her staff had with the Rules and Economic Development Committee from March 2013 onward, there were no public concerns or questions raised.

“There were many opportunities for people to weigh in with questions and concerns, and there have not been any,” Maland said. “It’s driven by state law, so I just can’t image that there would be concerns.”

Spivak echoed this sentiment.

“Really in large part it’s a housekeeping measure -- people who work in elections in the city were well aware that it was problem, but the general public hasn’t been. We didn’t expect anyone to oppose it,” she said.

City Council President Todd Gloria is also backing Proposition A.

“Proposition A makes common-sense updates to the city charter by better synchronizing the local election process with state primary election laws,” Gloria said.

Since the charter hasn’t been completely reworked since it went into effect on April 7, 1931, and technology and state and federal laws have changed dramatically in that time, it’s likely there will be more changes coming.

Maland said she already has her eye on some necessary amendments to make the 2016 ballot.

“The biggest one that probably will affect the charter is redistricting,” Maland said.

After the 2000 and 2010 redistricting processes brought some issues to the surface, she said, it’s important to resolve them before the next go around.

“I would like to go through with the city attorney and folks who went through the process in 2000 and 2010 and cleanup the items that need to happen to ensure we’re meeting legal requirements, and everything in the process is as it ought to be. Not that anything is wrong with it, but some of it is out of date.”

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