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What if they gave an election and nobody came? They did.
Look up Prop. D in the San Diego County election results and you’ll find zero votes in favor and zero votes against. Not a single person voted for a pretty good reason: There’s not a single person to vote.
But the county Registrar of Voters still had to mock up a ballot for voters who don’t exist and tally the non-existent votes. You can see results here:
What gives? It all goes back to water politics, a quirk of geography and strict election rules.
Prop. D is a ballot measure of the Coachella Valley Water District, which serves parched Riverside County cities and towns like Palm Springs, Indian Wells and the appropriately named Thermal, where the average July high temperature is 107 degrees.
Back in 1961, the Coachella Valley Water District (slogan: “Making Every Drop Count Since 1918”) began serving a slice of land in the northeast corner of San Diego County. As this map shows, it’s a very tiny area about three miles from the Salton Sea.
The water district is a government agency and has elections to fill seats on its board. This year, it placed a measure on the ballot asking voters whether they wanted to elect board members by geographic district.
Voters in the water district got to make the call in Tuesday’s election, and San Diego County dutifully mocked up a ballot for voters in that northeastern sliver. It was one of 213 separate ballots in the county in Tuesday’s election. (Voters get different ballots depending on the races that apply to them. Voters in San Diego, for example, may get different ballots depending on the City Council and county supervisor districts in which they live, not to mention the different school districts that serve the city.)
“We have to have it ready to go if a person wants to vote,” said Michael Vu, the registrar of voters for San Diego County.
But nobody actually got the ballot this year since there’s not a single registered voter up there.
Six registered voters lived there at one time in the past, a water district spokeswoman said, but no longer. None of those got water from the water district, meaning they may have had private wells or lived in trailers without water service.
The ballot measure passed, thanks to residents in Riverside and Imperial Counties, who did exist and actually voted.
The no-vote ballot measure raises an intriguing question: What happens if there are actually no votes in a race? Who wins when nobody’s willing to drop by the polls or stick a stamp on a vote-by-mail envelope ?
This is a hypothetical question, but some San Diego County political races are mighty small. In 2012, just 1,005 people cast ballots for or against a school bond in the rural community of Dehesa. Even fewer people voted for a community planning board in the little town of Potrero.
Vu said election law actually envisions the possibility of a no-vote election and considers it to be a tie election. A run-off election could be called, or the winner could be chosen by a game of chance.
Ties have happened here before. Back in 1992, a race for a seat in the backcountry Ramona water district ended in a deadlock. The water district, which was plagued by intense politics and recall elections in the 1990s, chose the winner by a coin flip, but it wasn’t an ordinary one.
Lawyers drew up a two-page, single-spaced document to lay out the heads-or-tails rules:
“It was almost laughable in how you actually flipped the damned coin and got it done,” said Mikel Haas, the former registrar of voters.
The details tackled things like the coin (a minted quarter chosen at random from a pool of coins), how far it had to be tossed (at least six feet) and its required path to the floor (unimpeded by, say, the drapes, walls or any people who happened to be around).
Ties have also been decided locally through drawn straws and slips of paper, with a Borrego Springs fire protection board seat going to the candidate who drew an envelope with a piece of paper with the word “Elected” on it.
First, though, they had to have another drawing to figure out who would draw first.