Exhaustion, expense of runoffs
In 2000, Aspen voters agreed by a 3-to-1 margin to amend the city charter and change the way they elect their municipal representatives. Instead of requiring political candidates to win a mere “plurality” of the votes cast (more than the other candidates), voters decided that mayoral candidates would have to attract more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a true majority. Contestants for City Council would have to win by at least 45 percent.Because candidates don’t always attract a majority of votes, especially in races like this year’s, which attracted four mayoral contestants and eight for the council, the system usually results in runoff elections.In other words, the municipal event that took place Tuesday – preceded by door-to-door campaigning, newspaper and broadcast ads, letters to the editor, fundraising and plenty of general hand-wringing by both citizens and candidates – was simply a primary or warm-up. Aspenites will cast ballots again on June 5, as Tim Semrau and Mick Ireland face off again for the mayor’s seat, and Steve Skadron and Toni Kronberg vie for the remaining City Council seat.If history is any guide, the results of the June 5 election are a foregone conclusion. In each of Aspen’s runoff elections to date, the candidates who drew the most votes in the first election repeated their results in the runoff. Based on that history, we expect that Ireland, who got 1,036 votes to Semrau’s 747 on May 8, will win the runoff; we expect Skadron, who drew 862 votes to Kronberg’s 487, to win the council seat.Why go through the whole exercise again – especially when fewer voters show up at the polls?Again, in each of Aspen’s runoff elections to date, voter turnout has dropped. The simple fact is that one campaign is enough, and all but the town’s most bug-eyed political junkies are burned out on elections.We recognize the value of having elected officials win a majority of votes. We understand the awkwardness associated with a duly elected mayor who commanded only, say, 40 percent of the ballots cast. We also know that a vast majority of Aspen voters approved this system in 2000.But we would ask – after runoff elections in 2001, 2003 and 2005, which cost taxpayers more than $21,000 and simply mimicked the original results – isn’t it time for a change?We would be comfortable returning to Aspen’s pre-2000 “plurality” system, but there are other “instant runoff” possibilities that involve voters expressing preferences for multiple candidates.Either is preferable to the exhaustion and expense of runoff elections.
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