Goodbye April Elections

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Polling Place

April elections in the City of Malibu are now strictly for the history books.

A new law was approved this week following a unanimous vote by City Council to abolish the Spring elections in favor of consolidated November elections for City, County, State and Federal balloting, increasing the terms for all sitting Councilmembers by nine months each.

The election will likely run alongside the State and Federal general elections until such time as the county is prepared to consolidate the two. However, city staff is already lodging a request to consolidate the two.

The ordinance, which was first proposed by then-Mayor Skylar Peak in November 2014, received wide support by council and staff, eventually earning a 5-0 approval vote of the ordinance language in April and a 4-0 vote writing the ordinance into law Monday night. Councilmember Joan House did not attend Monday’s meeting.

“Based on voter turnout, we know that more people turn out in elections in November,” said Peak when he initially suggested the change in 2014.

The numbers appear to corroborate Peak’s statement, according to voter turnout data compiled by city staff. In April municipal elections since Malibu’s incorporation in 1991, average voter turnout has stayed around 43.4% citywide, compared to 68.77% turnout for regular November elections in the same time frame.

Despite the statistically impressive increase of 25% of voters who come out for November elections, there is still a hurdle for city council elections to earn the same 68.77% voter turnout; namely, that despite the new law, elections will run concurrently and not consolidated.

“This would entail having two separate elections, two separate groups of poll workers, two separate ballots at each polling station, all in the same election,” City Clerk Lisa Pope told Council during their initial vote on the ordinance in March.

This is because L.A. County is unable to consolidate ballots, lacking necessary technology.

“Back in November, the County estimated [the date for consolidation] as 2018,” Pope said. “As of the time of the writing of this report, it’s now 2020. So I don’t see that coming any time soon.”

Elections expert attorney Kevin Shenkman came to speak to Council in March, assuring them that the time will come when elections can be consolidated.

Shenkman wrote to Council this week to continue to urge them to pass the new ordinance, Cynthia Kesselman of the Malibu Community Alliance disclosed during comment on the item.

“The law requires the County Board of Supervisors to consolidate ballots for Malibu elections,” Kesselman read from Shenkman’s letter.

Kesselman added that Shenkman, an attorney who has experience in election law, has offered to further help the City.

“He’s offered gratis to represent the City of Malibu with any enforcement [issues] with the County,” Kesselman told Council.

The wording of the new law irons out some of the questions posed by Council earlier regarding implementation.

“The City hereby requests the County of Los Angeles approve consolidation of the City’s November City Council election with the state-wide general election conducted by the County in November of each even-numbered year,” the ordinance states. 

“If the County denies the City’s request for consolidation, the City alternatively requests that the County permit the City to conduct its election concurrently with future state-wide general elections (employing a separate ballot from that of the County election) unless and until such time as the County approves the consolidation of the City Council election with the state-wide general election.”

With the change in election date comes an increase to the terms of those currently sitting on Council, with each of them exiting office in November, rather than April, of their election cycle year.

Within 30 days of the ordinance being approved by County Board of Supervisors, registered voters in the City of Malibu will receive official notice of the change of election dates.