Editorial: Pacific Palisades Community Council Election Process Needs Tweaking

Coming in the midst of a bitterly contested Presidential campaign, the Pacific Palisades Community Council election in August reminded us that EVERY VOTE COUNTS. In the race for Area 6 representative, Council member David Kaplan defeated his challenger, Eric Marshall, by exactly one vote: 92-91.

The PPCC election, which is held every two years to fill eight Area representative seats and one At-large seat on the 23-member board, also showed that our town is ready to embrace online voting at the grassroots level. A total of 1,237 voters cast valid ballots (228 ballots were deemed invalid because only one vote is allowed per household)—and only 26 were submitted on ballots published in the News and the Post.

Thanks largely to a contested race for the At-large seat, in which Lou Kamer defeated Quentin Fleming, the PPCC election easily surpassed the 714 valid votes cast in 2014, when voting was limited to printed ballots. This year, it was easy to vote online with just two or three clicks, the PPCC utilized greater social media outreach and the candidates in the four contested races were able to campaign not only door-to-door, but on the increasingly popular (though sometimes abused) Nextdoor Palisades website.

“We are of course gratified by the greater voter turnout and hope that it was because of increased interest by community members in the work of the Council and the issues we address,” outgoing PPCC President Chris Spitz told the News.

We agree that it was encouraging to see the way many residents became engaged in the election, and we know the Council has gained three talented new representatives— Katie Braude in Area 1 (Castellammare/ Paseo Miramar), Danielle Samulon in Area 3 (the neighborhoods from west Marquez Avenue to Bienveneda) and Kamer, who has emerged as a tireless and innovative community activist the past year.

Still, we believe there are ways the Community Council could improve the election process in 2018.

First, generate greater attention for the election by holding the candidates’ forum on a Thursday night at the beginning of the campaign (not near the end, as happened this year). The forum enables candidates in contested elections to make their pitch in person and then continue their campaigning. Online voting should start the day after the forum and end just two weeks later.

Second, in order to avoid summer vacation issues, consider holding the forum on the second Thursday of September. This would still allow time for the newly elected representatives to be sworn in at the PPCC’s first October meeting, as per tradition.

Third, the PPCC needs to work on educating residents about a key requirement—only one vote per household. And it needs to reassure everybody that in this small town, even though their vote is not private (voters must include their name and address), whom they vote for will remain private.

President Spitz, who headed the election committee, told the News: “Voter identity is private; the Committee members (a former Citizen of the Year, past Council chair and current VP; the Chamber of Commerce president-elect; the current treasurer and a past chair; the chair emeritus; and the current secretary) take their obligations seriously and have not released any voter information to anyone outside of the Committee.”

Fourth, in a two-person race, the candidate who loses should be allowed to become the Area alternate (who participates in Council meetings and votes when the representative cannot attend). Currently, the PPCC board makes that choice from among those who apply as alternates, a system that allows potential membership manipulation by the board. If a person is willing to become engaged in the community by running for an Area representative seat, he or she should be assured that the runner-up can at least fill the alternate position.

Members of the election committee have already acknowledged that the PPCC election bylaws will need to be amended as the council moves from paper ballots into the digital age. Fortunately this isn’t the U.S. Congress, so we should see results by 2018.

George Wolfberg, a widely respected leader on the PPCC, assured the News: “These future amendments will be fashioned with great care. I can speak for myself as co-chair [of the election committee] that any of the proposals developed by the bylaws committee will be discussed in an open and public process and it would be my goal that there be unanimous approval of any and all changes.”

We’ll vote for that!

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