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Harkey Bill to Fix Bob Baker Problem Signed Into Law

Posted by Chris Nguyen on August 27, 2013

San Clemente Mayor Robert

San Clemente Mayor Robert “Bob” Baker

Many people may recall the rather amusing saga of San Clemente Councilman Robert “Bob” Baker, who had an opponent in the November 2012 election with the same exact name of Robert “Bob” Baker, which OC Political covered here and here last year.

In a nutshell, Councilman Baker (R) was challenged for re-election by a businessman (D) with the same exact name. (In the process, we discovered ballot designations had been created in 1931 to solve this problem, but that clearly took a life of its own.) Under Elections Code 13118, which was left substantially untouched since 1927, when two candidates with the same (or very similar) names were to each select a number to be placed next to their names on the ballot if at least one of them filed a declaration that their names were confusingly similar.

Since Councilman Baker pulled and filed his nomination paperwork first, he got first pick of numbers.  Naturally, he picked the number 1. Easy enough, right? Well, no. Businessman Baker then threw everyone for a loop by picking the number 0. The San Clemente City Clerk initially determined that businessman Baker would precede Councilman Baker on the ballot since 0 comes before 1. Then, the City Clerk sought advised from the Secretary of State, who then recommended the Clerk to do a random drawing to determine who would get listed first (just like the random drawing of the alphabet for the ballot). 0 was drawn before 1, so businessman Baker was listed before Councilman Baker on the ballot.

Businessman Baker eventually dropped out (though his name remained on the ballot), and Councilman Baker was re-elected by a nearly 3% margin. Shortly after the election, his colleagues on the San Clemente City Council selected Baker to be Mayor of San Clemente for 2013.

CITY OF SAN CLEMENTE Member, City Council
Number To Vote For: 2
Completed Precincts: 46 of 46
Vote Count Percentage
CHRIS HAMM 12,308 26.2%
1 ROBERT “BOB” BAKER 10,890 23.2%
JIM DAHL 9,555 20.3%
MIKE MORTENSON 9,145 19.5%
DAVID CLEGG 3,105 6.6%
0 ROBERT “BOB” BAKER 1,995 4.2%

Well, this year, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey introduced AB 1316 in February, which sailed through the Assembly Elections Committee, the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the Assembly Floor, the Senate Elections Committee, and the Senate Floor, getting unanimous votes every step of the way. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1316 into law this month, and it will take effect on January 1, 2014.

Sponsored by the City Clerks Association of California, AB 1316 was supported by the Secretary of State, the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, and the League of California Cities. Harkey’s office specifically cited the situation in San Clemente as the impetus for the bill, and that was cited by all four official bill analyses in the Legislature (Assembly Elections, Assembly Appropriations, Senate Elections, and Senate Floor).

AB 1316 is quite straightforward.  If any candidate files a declaration declaring that the name of an opponent is confusingly similar, the elections official (the City Clerk for city offices or the Registrar of Voters for federal, state, county, school district, special district, etc.) will now select the number assigned to each candidate with a similar name. The Clerk/Registrar must start with the number 1 and assign the numbers sequentially based on the order that each candidate filed for the ballot. The ballot order will be determined by lottery. AB 1316 also fixed the annoying problem of the number’s location, moving it after the candidate’s name, as existing law had placed it before the candidate’s name.

If Harkey’s bill had been in effect in November 2012, the Councilman would have been Robert “Bob” Baker 1 while the businessman would have been Robert “Bob” Baker 2. Under the pre-Harkey law, as you’ll recall, they were 1 Robert “Bob” Baker and 0 Robert “Bob” Baker.

Due to the inherent advantage of the number 1, I wish AB 1316 had begun with the number 2 instead or that the assigned numbers for the candidates were determined by lottery in the first place.  Oh well.

Sadly (but appropriately), Harkey’s bill also closed my googol loophole: thanks to AB 1316, there can never be a candidate with the number 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

One Response to “Harkey Bill to Fix Bob Baker Problem Signed Into Law”

  1. Gary "water watchdog" Langdale said

    There should have been a financial cost to withdrawing from the election after it was too late to be removed from the ballot. As I recall Bob “zero” didn’t file a candidate statement so he had no financial skin in the game.

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