By The Signal Editorial Board
Quick. Name as many candidates as you can for Santa Clarita City Council. You’ve got 30 seconds, and no fair peeking at the internet. Put your phone down.
How many did you get? There are 15 in total, and unless you are the gadfly-est of gadflies, we submit that you’d be hard-pressed to name four or five.
And you’re voting in the Nov. 6 election, we assume.
This little experiment illustrates the fact that there is a flaw in the way our Santa Clarita City Council elections are structured. Of the 15 names on the ballot, competing for three seats, about half are unfamiliar to most Santa Clarita voters — even those who regularly read the news and try to follow candidate forums and become informed voters.
We witnessed it on Monday, as we hosted a City Council candidates forum, along with our co-sponsors SCVTV and KHTS. We recorded it on video and it will be made available on signalscv.com so all voters will have a chance to see it.
Of the 15 candidates, we had 13 in attendance. In a 90-minute forum, there was time for:
• Three rounds of questions that all candidates answered.
• Two rounds of questions in which each candidate answered a question drawn at random.
• A 2-minute closing statement from each candidate.
That’s just five questions and a closing from each candidate. Is that enough for anyone to really get to know them, including the relative newcomers who don’t have the advantage of being long-term incumbents, or having the benefit of massive financial support to help them get their word out?
Really, no. Admittedly, this was not the only council candidates forum. By Nov. 6, the group — plus or minus a participant or two — will have gathered at least three or four times. So, this wasn’t your only opportunity to get to know them.
But, in all seriousness, how well will you know them by the time you vote?
It’s fair to say the field can be broken down into several groups:
1) The incumbents, who essentially start the race with a rather significant head start.
2) The serious challengers, who may have done some fundraising and have some other key ingredients, like name recognition from previous public service or support from local political activist organizations.
3) Those who, try as they might, are destined to be also-rans because they lack the backing and/or the ability to capture the imagination of the voting public.
With a crowded field such as this, it’s challenging for the average voter to become informed well enough about the positions, skills and experiences of each candidate to make a well-reasoned, well-thought-out choice. We hope voters are paying attention, and we are going to continue providing information and profiles of the candidates between now and the election.
However, we’ve come to conclude that change may be in order when it comes to the way our City Council representatives are selected.
What might that change be?
There are several options that may be worth considering, but we wouldn’t advocate committing to one willy-nilly. Instead, we suggest that whoever is elected to the City Council on Nov. 6 introduce a motion directing city staff to study and report back on possible ways to better connect voters and those who seek to represent them.
We assume the possibilities would include items like term limits, which would reduce the ability of incumbents to become too entrenched, thus ensuring “new blood” on a regular basis and opening doors for new people and ideas.
Or, perhaps primary elections could work, thinning the field of council hopefuls before a general election so the voters will face a less daunting task in getting familiar with the serious contenders.
And, of course, there’s the possibility of switching from at-large seats to electing council members by district, which is already part of the discussion around town. If nothing else, instead of considering, for example, 15 candidates for three seats, voters might be able to evaluate five candidates for one seat.
There are positives and negatives to each of these options. Some of them come with cost. Some of them could be abused, particularly if we are talking about the drawing of district boundaries.
Any of them would be a major change, and we would only advocate that such a change be made after much careful thought and study of the positive and negative aspects of each.
We trust that voters will meet the challenge of sifting through the field of 15 and elect capable leaders who, once this election is over, will cast a contemplative eye toward the elections of the future — with the interests of voters in mind.