Runoff races put to voters in November |

Runoff races put to voters in November

Janet Urquhart

Making good on a promise the Aspen City Council made to the electorate more than a year ago, the city is asking voters if they want runoff elections for elected officials.

Referendum 2F on the city’s Nov. 7 ballot proposes amendments to the city charter to institute a runoff election for mayor if no candidate for the post receives a majority of the votes cast. In addition, council candidates would face a runoff contest if they don’t receive at least 45 percent of the votes cast.

The runoff concept has long simmered as an issue in local politics, but when four candidates for mayor emerged in the May 1999 election, the council decided it was time to propose runoffs even before it knew the outcome of that election, recalled Mayor Rachel Richards, who was a council member at the time.

Richards was elected in that 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.

“It’s important that someone who has a little more of the spokesperson’s role as the mayor really speak with the strength of the community behind them,” said Richards, who supports the runoffs.

“I don’t know what the outcome would have been the last time had there been a runoff election. For me, that’s really not the point,” she said.

The charter amendments proposed on next month’s ballot set the runoff election on the first Tuesday in June. Holding an additional election will cost the city $2,500 to $3,000, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

While mayoral candidates must win with a simple majority – 50 percent of the votes cast plus one vote, according to the proposal – the City Council agreed during deliberations this fall to propose a slightly lesser standard for council members.

With multiple candidates often running for two council posts, it’s quite possible no one would garner 50 percent of the vote, forcing runoffs for both seats after every election.

At 45 percent, Councilmen Tom McCabe and Tony Hershey would have been elected to their seats without a runoff in 1999. McCabe collected more than 50 percent of the votes cast in a six-way race and Hershey received 46 percent of the vote.

However, without runoffs for council members, someone with a relatively small margin of support could end up with a seat when a large field of candidates splits up the vote, Richards noted.

The proposed runoffs would pit the two top vote-getters against each other for mayor, while the four top vote-getters in the council race would vie in the runoff if no one receives 45 percent of the vote. If one council seat is filled in the initial election, the two candidates with the next highest vote totals would face off in a runoff for the other seat.

Two council seats come up in each election, held every other year in May. Council members serve for four years; the mayor serves a two-year term.

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