2004 San Diego mayoral election

2004 San Diego mayoral election
Flag of San Diego, California.svg
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  Dick Murphy.jpg Donna Frye City Council.jpg Ron Roberts.jpg
Nominee Dick Murphy Donna Frye (write-in) Ron Roberts
Party Republican Democratic Republican
Popular vote 157,929 155,851 141,884
Percentage 34.7% 34.2% 31.1%

Mayor before election

Dick Murphy

Elected Mayor

Dick Murphy

The 2004 San Diego mayoral election was held on Tuesday, November 2, 2004 to elect the mayor for San Diego. Incumbent mayor Dick Murphy stood for reelection for a second term.

Municipal elections in California are officially non-partisan, though some candidates do receive funding and support from various political parties. The non-partisan primary was held Tuesday, June 3, 2004. Murphy and county supervisor Ron Roberts received the most votes and advanced to the November special general election.[1]

After the primary San Diego City Council member Donna Frye entered the race as a write-in candidate for the November general election. Murphy was certified as winner with a narrow plurality of the votes in the general election over runner-up Frye. This result was subject to a recount and litigation before ultimately being upheld by the courts in February 2005.





In the March primary Dick Murphy received the most votes but not a majority, denying him the outright majority needed for an outright victory. This was the first time in twenty years that an incumbent mayor was forced to face a runoff election. San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts received the second most votes and advanced to the general election alongside Murphy. Roberts had also been the runner-up in the 2000 mayoral election against Murphy.[3]

After the primary elections, San Diego City Council member Donna Frye announced that she would run as a write-in candidate. Frye ran a maverick campaign against Murphy and Roberts, who were both considered establishment candidates by the media. Frye was the only member of the city council to vote against the underfunding of San Diego's pension liabilities that led to the San Diego pension scandal. As mayor, Murphy had voted in favor of the underfunding.[5]

Recount and litigation[edit]

In the general election, Dick Murphy was certified as winner of a plurality of votes by a margin of 2,108 votes over runner-up Frye. However, news outlets uncovered 5,547 ballots that were not counted on which voters had written in Frye's name but not filled in the adjacent oval. If these votes had been counted, Frye would have been elected mayor instead of Murphy. Members of the media requested a recount indirectly on Frye's behalf, leading to allegations of bias from Murphy's lawyers.[5]

Attorney Fred Woocher filed a lawsuit on behalf of three voters contesting Murphy's victory due to the 5,000 uncounted ballots. On February 2, 2005, Judge Michael Brenner ruled that the unfilled ovals did not count as votes under California state law, ending the post-election litigation battle.[6]


In April 2005, only two months after the results of the election were officially upheld by the courts, Murphy announced that he would be resigning as mayor. In the face of a deepening pension scandal that he was personally involved in, Murphy stated that San Diego needed a mayor with the support of the majority of residents and a clear mandate to lead the city out of its crisis.[7] The city held a special election to fill the vacancy at mayor.

In response to Donna Frye's nearly successful write-in candidacy, the San Diego City Council amended the municipal code so that write-in candidates could not run in general elections or run-off elections. Write-ins are still permitted in primary elections and recall elections.[8]

Primary election results[edit]

San Diego mayoral primary election, 2004[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Dick Murphy 100,086 40.3
Republican Ron Roberts 73,223 29.4
Republican Peter Q. Davis 56,037 22.5
Democratic Jim Bell 18,933 7.6
Total votes 248,868 100

General election results[edit]

San Diego mayoral general election, 2004[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Dick Murphy 157,929 34.7
Democratic Donna Frye (write-in) 155,851 34.2
Republican Ron Roberts 141,884 31.1
Total votes 455,694 100


  1. ^ "How to Run for Office". The City of San Diego-Office of the City Clerk. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Election History - Mayor of San Diego" (PDF). City of San Diego. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  3. ^ a b Vigil, Jennifer (22 April 2004). "Ewell orders big changes at City Hall". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  4. ^ Perry, Tony (February 12, 2000). "In San Diego Mayor's Race, Wilson Still Sets the Style". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Rainey, James (25 December 2004). "Media's role clouds San Diego recount: Push to examine ballots stirs debate on impartiality". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  6. ^ Moran, Greg (3 February 2005). "Quick decision turns aside challenges in mayoral race". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  7. ^ "San Diego mayor resigns amid pension fund probe". USA Today. 25 April 2005. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  8. ^ "Article 7: Elections, Campaign Finance and Lobbying, Division 3: Write-In Candidates" (PDF). Municipal Code. City of San Diego. Retrieved 24 December 2012.