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Tim Myers: City Council candidates declare early

Posted: March 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

The race for Santa Clarita City Council in 2014 started to clarify over last weekend with two more fully announced candidates, Dante Acosta and Alan Ferdman, joining the four already-announced candidates — Gloria Mercado-Fortine, Maria Gutzeit, and the incumbents Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean — to bring the total fully announced candidates to six with more than one year left until the election.

Add to this the very probable candidacies of planning commissioner and prior candidate Diane Trautman and local activist and gadfly Berta Gonzalez-Harper, and that brings the crowded field to eight.

A strong potential exists that five or six wannabe candidates will file papers later this year. An even stronger potential exists that these same five or six future candidates do not even yet know that eight candidates are already in the race.

Now, new official candidates Acosta and Ferdman stated the correct platitudes that people enjoy reading. The city, though doing fine right now, needs some "bold and fresh" ideas for continued success.

Alan Ferdman states the election should revolve around issues and not name recognition. Blah, blah, blah…..

The problem? In the extremely low (17 to 19 percent) turnout environment of Santa Clarita city elections, name recognition means little. In fact, the winning candidates probably personally know EVERYONE who voted for them.

The problem for non-incumbent candidates does not relate to low-information voters, but high-information voters motivated to actually participate.

These high-information voters seem to divide themselves into two camps; 47 percent support the incumbents, and 53 percent hate and despise the incumbents. (One can support this number from examining the distribution of votes in prior elections.)

Why do (mainly) incumbents keep winning with a minority of support? The answer, of course, lies in the at-large nature of City Council elections. Candidates vie against all other candidates to climb into the top two or three spots with no majority required.

At-large elections protect incumbents when too many new candidates vie for the 53 percent of votes available. At-large contests also marginalize minority voters since a "majority" of 47 percent can elect candidates.

What happened in 2012 to turn out incumbent Laurie Ender? Ironically, the certified results show that the vote split between incumbents (two) and non-incumbents (three) held very close to the historical 47 percent-53 percent.

The difference that doomed incumbent Ender? Incumbent Bob Kellar became a "super-incumbent," sucking up 58 percent of the votes from the incumbent party, leaving Laurie Ender short and consequently out of office.

So how does one hunt down the requisite votes needed to win? Examination of precinct results shows that turnout stands poor throughout the city, with a slight spike in the precinct around Friendly Valley, so no geographical "vote banks" exist to tap.

But one place exists to look, and candidates should spend all of their time there.

In the final results from 2012, 75 percent of the votes cast came from mail-in ballots or mail-in ballots dropped off at polling stations. You read that right:

Nearly three out of four of the low turnout did not show up to a polling location, instead casting their votes days and weeks beforehand.

Shocking fact number two: the city clerk maintains a log with the names and contact information of permanent vote by mail ("VBM") voters and those who request a VBM ballot. The city clerk also, on a daily basis, updates the names of the folks who returned completed ballots.

Savvy candidates and their supporters thus can identify potential voters from that narrow VBM list and actually contact them to make sure they returned the ballot. The city clerk assists by narrowing their list of contacts on a daily basis.

This highly mathematical and nearly mechanical methodology makes all other candidate activities, from sign placement to endorsements to forums, seem busy work — while the real work happens on phone banks to get at the clearly identified and narrow VBM vote bank.

Do the six current challenger candidates know this? Absolutely, but they probably lack the resources to mount the type of methodical and mechanical campaign needed to win.

The most likely outcome sees the incumbents returned to office and the candidate with the highest name recognition capturing the "open" seat vacated by Councilman Frank Ferry: namely Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

This outcome also could forestall the installation of council districts in Santa Clarita, but that topic I will save for a future column.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.

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