Aspen narrows in on how voters will vote
August 24, 2010
ASPEN – A probable November ballot measure being vetted by the Aspen City Council, which could eliminate a controversial voting method, underwent changes Monday night.
After hearing negative feedback from several community members about a replacement method that would reinstate a traditional runoff election, but would reduce the majority threshold to 40 percent, the City Council reworked the proposal to make the threshold 50 percent for in the mayoral race.
The threshold in a council election will be 45 percent, under the new language.
If the measure makes it onto the ballot and is approved by voters, it would essentially repeal instant runoff voting, or IRV, which was first used in May 2009.
With a higher threshold, “you would get a much better read on how the voters feel about a candidate,” said Frieda Wallison, chairwoman of the Pitkin County Republicans.
Ward Hauenstein, who sits on the city Election Commission, a body charged with certifying elections and weighing in on potential problems, said the threshold in both the mayoral and City Council races should be 50 percent.
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The other alternative to IRV is what the city is calling a “winner-take-all” method, in which the candidate with the most votes wins, and there is no runoff.
Sy Coleman, an Aspen resident who observed elections when Aspen used the winner-take-all method, said that system allows for more diverse outcomes of elections.
“If there’s a cluster of people who feel one way about a given issue, they have a pretty good chance of getting their candidate on council,” Coleman said.
But that method was roundly criticized by Councilman Torre for the very same reason. Torre said with the City Council race, which typically sees a large number of candidates for two open seats, winner-take-all can allow a person with a very small percentage of support to win.
If there are nine candidates in a race, which there were in the May 2009 election, one of them could win with 11 percent of the vote – putting 89 percent of the voters “out in the cold,” as Wallison put it.
City Clerk Kathryn Koch said that, in her memory, the lowest number of candidates who ran for Aspen City Council was six.
As it stands now, there will be three questions on the ballot, a yes or no for keeping IRV, a yes or no for implementing the traditional runoff and a yes or no bringing in the winner-take-all method.
IRV was adopted by city voters in 2007 as a method that would inject efficiency into the voting process because it decides the results of runoffs instantaneously.
Ballots allow voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. When there is no majority, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed to the candidates who were ranked second on the ballot by the voter.
Marilyn Marks, a mayoral candidate in the May 2009 election who had the second highest number of votes, losing to current Mayor Mick Ireland, advocated a two-part question to be placed on the ballot that would essentially ask, “Should Aspen repeal IRV? If yes, which of the other two methods should be used.”
Marks has been a vocal opponent of IRV since the 2009 election, saying is it subject to a number of complex mathematical anomalies. The chief concern, according to mathematicians who have studied the method, is that it is subject to non-monotonicity, which allows a candidate who should have come in second or third to win.
Both of the proposed methods have been used in Aspen before; the runoff was used for nearly the whole decade before IRV was implemented.