Modesto measures all headed toward passage

It appeared that a majority of city voters agreed with a proposal to eliminate Modesto’s runoff elections for City Council district elections.

A partial count showed 10,670 votes or 65 percent favoring Measure J and 5,647, or 35 percent, opposed.

Many people called for a change to the elections process after runoffs went awry in 2001 and 2005. Measure J will only eliminate council member runoffs; Modesto will still hold a runoff if needed in mayoral races.

Two other Modesto measures on Tuesday’s ballot also appeared to be headed for approval.

Measure K, which would clean up city charter language to not count write-in votes for unqualified candidates, had 10,803 “Yes” votes or 67 percent to 5,348 “No” or 33 percent.

Also faring well was an advisory measure on extending sewer service to the Parklawn area. The vote was 9,639 or 58 percent in favor to 7,035 or 42 percent opposed.

Parklawn residents, living on the south edge of Modesto, have asked the city and Stanislaus County for help with failing septic tanks.Measure J grew out of a 2007 city Charter Review Committee report that blasted the runoff system, which is triggered when no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes in the November election.

“I am happy we were able to reach the voters with our recommendations and it was understood,” said Paul Baxter, who was chairman of a mayor-appointed committee that recommended the measure. “We are hoping the changes will be beneficial to the city and help with the elections process.”

Runoffs are designed to keep a candidate with a small plurality from winning a council seat. The problem is that runoff votes were held the second Tuesday in December, leaving little time for the city clerk to select runoff candidates and prepare the ballots.

A 2001 runoff was cancelled when 10,000 ballots didn’t go out in time, and a runoff in 2005 was held even though a later review showed Kristin Olsen had captured just over 50 percent of the vote in her bid to unseat council incumbent Denny Jackman.

The city sued itself to nullify the 2005 runoff.

“It just created problems that didn’t have solutions given the short turn-around time,” Baxter said.

Councilman Dave Lopez thought it was premature to change the voting process for district elections, held for the first time in 2009. “In the last cycle of elections, there was some small numbers in one particular district,” he said. “Imagine if three or four people were involved in that election, a person could get elected with 200 or 300 votes.”

The runoff system will continue for mayoral elections, but the voting will be held in February.

Measure K clarifies vote-counting language that created confusion in 2005. It will make it clear that write-in votes for unqualified candidates, such as cartoon characters, won’t be included in the total vote count.