A new initiative aims to amend the Richmond city charter by introducing primary municipal elections to ensure that elected officials receive a majority of the votes.
If approved by voters, the amendment will add a nonpartisan primary to the process of how residents choose their leaders.
In the current system, candidates can be elected with less than a majority, which the initiative’s backers say may not have the support of most voters.
The initiative’s backers recently filed a notice of intent to circulate a petition for the Richmond Election Reform Act. They will have 90 days to gather about 10,000 signatures from Richmond’s 57,568 registered voters to put the measure on the ballot next year.
In a primary municipal election, voters in a city council district would choose their preferred candidate. If no candidate receives a majority, the two candidates with the most votes will move on to the general municipal election for that seat. Backers claim this would ensure the winner in the general election has the support of the majority of voters.
Don Gosney, a proponent of the measure, said he is hoping for a fairer election process where the will of the people decides who gets to be in charge of the city. He said the process will be similar to how county supervisors are elected.
“It requires that if you have multiple people running, they get at least 50 percent plus one. If they have 50 percent plus one, they are automatically elected,” Gosney said.
According to Gosney, over the last 20 years, a campaign strategy was developed in Richmond to split the votes.
“Gayle and Eduardo are two good examples. They got elected with less than 39 percent of the voters. That is not exactly a mandate of the people,” Gosney said.
In the last election, Eduardo Martinez won with 10,319 votes or 39.20 percent of the votes for mayor. Shawn Dunning, Nat Bates, and Mark Wassberg received a combined 60.8 percent of the votes.
Three candidates ran in the last District 3 City Council race. Doria Robinson won with 39.62 percent of the vote, with Oscar Garcia and Corky Booze receiving a combined 60.38 percent.
In 2006, current Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin won the mayoral election with 37.2 percent of the vote, edging out Irma Anderson and Gary Bell, who received 36.1 percent and 26.1 percent of the respective vote.
“It is not like there is a printed handbook on elections that says the first thing you have to do is split the vote,” Gosney said. “But if you look at the elections over the past 20-plus years here in Richmond, it sure seems like that is the case.”
Gosney wouldn’t share who was behind the election measure but said four unions were financing the signature-gathering effort, including the Richmond Police Officers Association, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, and the Boilermakers Union Local 549.
The measure appears to target candidates endorsed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance. The RPA is a Richmond political group that supports progressive policies and candidates.
The members of the RPA have not seen the final language of the measure and haven’t taken a position, according to RPA Operations Manager Jamin Pursell.
“Speaking only for myself, I would say that Mayor Eduardo received more individual votes than the previous Mayor when he initially ran for office. I am personally disappointed that anyone would respond to their candidate losing with trying to change the rules,” Pursell said.
The initiative would also amend the Richmond City Charter by introducing a process for filling vacancies in the city council and mayor’s office. If a vacancy on the council is not filled within 60 days, a special general municipal election is to be held to elect a replacement.
If the signature drive is successful, the initiative will be brought before the city council to be placed on the November 2024 ballot.
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