On Aspen’s November ballot: Runoff elections vs. IRV

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – In what Mayor Mick Ireland said is a move that demeans the intelligence of Aspen voters, the City Council decided Tuesday on one ballot question that could replace instant runoff voting, or IRV.

The question, if approved by voters, would essentially repeal IRV and bring Aspen’s voting method back to the traditional runoff system the city used from 2000 to 2007. With the runoff, if the highest-ranking candidate on the ballot doesn’t get more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she goes against the first runner-up in a second vote held weeks later.

The method the City Council took off the table, which the city is calling a winner-take-all approach, gives the candidate with the most votes a seat in the first and only round of voting.

Having two conflicting items on the ballot in the same section would be too confusing, a number of community members and some councilmen said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I can’t envision when I’m standing in the voting box what I’m seeing on the ballot,” said Councilman Steve Skadron.

But Ireland decried the decision as one that undermined Aspen’s ability to bring a method that some voters might prefer over IRV and the traditional runoff.

“I am simply appalled by the notion that people aren’t smart enough to vote on this,” Ireland said.

Councilman Torre took issue, as he has in prior meetings, with the legitimacy of the winner-take-all method. He said that approach can bring people into office who didn’t have a significant majority of voter support.

The problem is especially prevalent in City Council races that have numerous candidates. City Clerk Kathryn Koch said Monday that the lowest number of candidates in her three decades working for the city was six.

Torre also said the runoff gives voters a chance to get to know the candidates better, allowing them to make a more informed decision.

Sy Coleman, a longtime Aspen resident who observed elections when Aspen utilized the winner-take-all method, said that setup allows a more diverse council to be elected because candidates that represent fringe issues are more likely to win.

The winner-take-all method was struck from the discussion by a 3-2 vote. Ireland and Councilman Dwayne Romero supported it.

IRV eliminates the later runoff, but still allows winning candidates to achieve a majority by providing a ranking system on the ballot. IRV, however, has been the subject of scrutiny across the country by mathematicians who say it is prone to complex mathematical anomalies, the most troublesome of which is a bizarre phenomenon called non-monotonicity.

Non-monotonicity can allow a person who received the second-, third- or fourth-largest number of votes to win the election.