City voting in need of overhaul?
July 21, 2005
A lackluster voter turnout for Aspen’s June runoff has spurred a broad discussion about city elections, including their timing, runoffs versus primaries, e-voting and more.The City Council, during a two-day retreat earlier this week, agreed to schedule a work session to discuss elections in general. Newly elected Councilman Jack Johnson, who is exploring the potential of instituting Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, pushed the topic forward.After beating his opponent in a June runoff that saw few voters head back to the polls, Johnson vowed his first order of business in office would be exploring the possibilities of IRV. The system essentially allows citizens to cast their votes in both the regular election and a potential runoff at the same time.IRV would require voters to rank candidates in the May election; then, in races in which no candidate garners enough votes in the first go-round, the computerized system would retally ballots until winners emerge. It would require just one election.Aspen’s elections present an IRV complication, however, because voters elect two council members with a single ballot.Johnson’s colleagues agreed to further discussion about IRV, but they also called for broader discussion on city elections and potential changes.Any modifications would require a voter-approved amendment to the city charter.Councilman Torre suggested pioneering e-voting in Aspen – voting via the Internet – and allowing voter registration at the polls. “It’s total bullshit that this community isn’t turning out 70 percent of voters in every election – and that’s a low goal for me,” he said.Torre also questioned the wisdom of holding the city’s regular election in May, an off-season month when locals tend to be out of town.Councilwoman Rachel Richards called for a debate on electing council members via districts or wards, rather than at-large, and on whether a primary would be more effective than a runoff. Or, she said, maybe Aspen should return to one regular election, in which candidates may win with a plurality of votes rather than a majority.She also pondered whether voters should elect the mayor or whether the electorate should select a council that then picks the mayor from among its ranks.”Should the mayor have to run every two years, or should the mayor have a longer term?” Richards added.Currently, council members serve four-year terms while the mayor serves two-year terms.Richards urged the appointment of a charter commission to take a look at city’s entire electoral process. The process, at the very least, is headed for further council debate.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org