Be heard tonight
August 22, 2010
Tonight the City Council will decide on the November ballot questions that allow voters to repeal or maintain instant runoff voting (IRV) and which voting method(s) will be offered instead. Their decision needs citizen input, which to date, has been discouraged. IRV was adopted the same way – council decisions with little public information. The result was the convoluted IRV method that fails to provide majority support for winners as promised. Citizens should influence council on such decisions. Allowing elected officials to decide on their own re-election methods is a fundamentally bad idea.
Council is offering two choices if IRV is repealed. Neither requires majority support for winning candidates. The option to return to the previous runoff system thresholds is missing. Despite repeated promises to create a task force to conduct meetings on voting methods and moving the election date, council waited until the eleventh hour. Tonight is the only opportunity for substantive comment before the ballot language goes to press on Friday.
Council is offering a one-stage “most vote wins” option, which election commissioners favor on the grounds of making voting fast, without two trips to the polls. The other alternative offered is a run-off when no candidate for an office reaches 40 percent support. Council is moving away from requiring majority support, essentially making it easier for candidates representing minority or extreme views to get elected. Yet voters have voted twice in this decade with 3-1 support each time to require majority support to win a seat. Why are council members, the likely beneficiaries of lower thresholds, ignoring this clear message?
Pitkin County’s “top two” recent primary provides a reference point. Jack Johnson received 30.8 percent of the vote, with 70 percent split among four other candidates. Without a two-stage election, requiring a race against Rob Ittner, with 28.2 percent of the vote, Jack would have been elected, despite the fact that 70 percent of the people preferred another candidate. Isn’t a thoughtful decision making process as important for electing city leadership as for county leadership?
Four of the five council members have expressed their dismay at the one-stage IRV election process which did not allow even close observers enough time to learn the candidates’ positions. Yet current council proposals seem driven by valuing efficiency over effectiveness. Undoubtedly local elected leadership will face major challenges in the coming years. Do we really want to elect those decision makers based on a system that achieves the fastest result with less information about their qualifications? Has knowing less about politicians before their election ever served the public well?
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Come to council tonight and request the option to return to a two-stage system that allows voters to coalesce around majority supported candidates as we make future leadership decisions. Don’t leave the voting method decision to those most likely to benefit from it.