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Friday, November 07, 2008

Analysis: A look back at Measure N at Why It Was Defeated

The results for Measure N can be looked at in two ways. On the one hand, the measure failed by just 2000 votes despite large amounts of public confusion about what the measure would do and why it was needed.

On the other hand, opponents of Measure N point out that Davis rarely opposes such measures, that there was only late organized opposition, no ballot argument against the measure, and yet it lost.

Both in a way are probably correct.

The Davis Enterprise in a rare moment of editorializing by city beat writer Claire St. John suggests:
"The death knell probably rang when Mayor Ruth Asmundson, who voted in favor of putting Measure N on the ballot, encouraged voters to turn it down."
I would tend to agree with that analysis. But this article will look further and argue that this was a much broader and deeper defeat than the surface numbers might suggest.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek along with his colleague Stephen Souza was the strongest supporter of the measure. The Vanguard is awaiting his exclusive statement, in the meantime, we post his statement as printed in the Davis Enterprise.
"I have learned much from those who were most vocal in their opposition to Measure N... I hope the community at large, especially those who campaigned actively against Measure N, will continue to provide guidance to the City Council on the issues that are related to the charter.

And I think that people who did not support Measure N would like to have greater engagement with the community, and I think that is something we've learned from the process.

Anything the city would want to pursue as a result of a charter will require much more discussion and a much better understanding on everyone's part."
Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor has at times called the measure "a solution in search of a problem."
"I think this vote indicates that any future consideration of change to our city's governance structure must be clear and specific and based on deep community engagement."
In my own view, I think Councilmember Heystek has indeed learned from this setback for his cause of home rule and eventually choice voting.


There were two critical errors along the way. One was the separate the issue of choice voting from the issue of the charter city in order to gain the support of Mayor Ruth Asmundson, a gesture that was already futile even before she changed her vote.

The other error was to bring about this process without more community involvement and buy-in. The result of both of these was a confusing and sterile measure that many did not understand more still failed to appreciate any sense of its necessity.

In the final analysis then, Don Saylor's view is right, there must be clear and specific changes to the city and it must be based on deep community engagement. The irony is that they had the latter back in 2006, but it got lost along the way.

Vanguard Analysis

The Vanguard analysis paints a far grimmer view of the measure that goes well beyond the narrow 2000 point defeat which marked a 54-45 verdict.

Looking at the city precincts only, we see that there was a considerable undervote when compared to its companion Measure W.

In the city of Davis, 28,105 people cast their ballots for the Presidential Election--of which 22,653 voted for President Elect Obama (80% if you are scoring at home).

Measure W in the city of Davis received around 26,263 votes of which The fall of which just under 20,000 were Yes votes. From the Presidential election at the top of the ballot to Measure W was a decline of just 2000 votes. That means there was only 6.6% drop off from the Presidential Election at the top to Measure W--a remarkable feat given the length of the ballot and the fact that Measure W was on the second side of the ballot and past all of the propositions.

However, Measure N received just 22,760 or 3503 less than W and 5,659 less than the Presidential election. That is a drop of nearly 20%. One in five people did not cast their ballots for Measure N.

Even the Los Rios Bond which was on the ballot in Davis and never even discussed among most people either in the papers or on the Vanguard only had 12% who did not vote for it.

The comparison is probably most striking with Los Rios because there was a measure that was never discussed and yet it was very clear what it was about and what it would do.

We can go back to the Davis Enterprise editorial a month ago, the people of Davis simply do not know what the measure was about and therefore a large number either voted against it or did not for it at all. Only 10,395 of 28,105 (about 37%) of those who cast their ballots on November 4, 2008 voted yes on Measure N.

The bottom line here is that we see the perils of putting a measure on the ballot during this type of election that is complicated. Measure W and Measure M were both straightforward. Voters knew a yes vote generally meant money for education and that a N vote would deny that money. People did not have that easy frame for Measure N and as a result uncertainty about what the measure did caused some people to vote No and others to simply not vote at all.

The future of a charter city, choice voting, and home rule will depend on this community. The perils of a council driven initiative were well-demonstrated this week. Now we will see what the people of Davis want and if this effort dies here or continues on.

---David M. Greenwald reporting