Council heeds the call for runoff votes |

Council heeds the call for runoff votes

Janet Urquhart

Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards might not have been elected under new rules the City Council is considering.

Richards is pushing for legislation that would force runoff elections when city candidates collect less than a majority of votes.

The City Council started the ball rolling Monday to amend the city’s charter to provide for runoff elections when council candidates win seats with less than 50 percent of the votes cast.

The council unanimously directed City Clerk Kathryn Koch to draft new charter provisions for runoff elections in both the mayoral and council races, for review later this month. The proposed changes would go to city voters in November and be in effect when the next council election takes place in May 2001.

Council members wavered on whether to require runoffs just for the mayor’s seat, or for both the mayor and council seats. Council members agreed the mayor should be elected by a simple majority – 50 percent of the vote, plus one vote.

But council elections, which often attract multiple candidates for multiple seats, are not as clear-cut. The city could choose to mandate a runoff if, for example, a council candidate is elected with less than 40 percent of the vote, Koch said.

Councilman Tom McCabe suggested a runoff for the mayor’s seat is the most pressing need, since the mayor becomes the spokesperson for the town.

“I think all of us would prefer that the mayor have a clear mandate,” he said.

But Richards argued that what’s good for the mayor is good for the council. “Isn’t it fair to look at it for council members, too?” she said.

The concept of runoff elections has long been kicked around by city officials, but it came up anew after the May 1999 city elections. Richards was elected in a four-way race by just 14 votes and 32 percent of the votes cast.

Had runoff elections been mandated by the city charter, Richards and her nearest competitor, Helen Klanderud, would have faced each other in a subsequent contest.

In the last 10 elections, mayoral runoffs would have been necessary on four occasions, according to Koch.

McCabe was the only candidate among six running for two seats to receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast in 1999. Councilman Tony Hershey, who received slightly less than 50 percent of the vote, would have faced a runoff with the third highest vote-getter, had a simple majority been required of council candidates, too.

Koch was also directed to come up with recommendations on when to hold a runoff vote and when the mayor and new council members should take office if a runoff election is necessary.

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