Su Lum: Slumming
July 29, 2009
Let me say at the outset that I am not wild about any of our voting options. I lived for many years with the winner-take-all system that often ended up with candidates winning by only a handful of votes, elected by only a small fraction of the voters.Voters thought we had this solved when we went to the runoff voting system, essentially turning the “election” into a primary, but this had its problems as well. First of all it took forever – a whole new campaign for those still standing, costly for both candidates and the city. The voters got bored, fewer voted in the runoff than did at the end, and the upshot was always the same: Whoever had the most votes in the first go-round always won in the final.Meanwhile, communities around the country including respectable cities such as Cambridge, Mass., had begun successfully using an Instant Runoff System to get around this very dilemma. Jack Johnson and Kathryn Koch went off to an IRV training session, and soon a task force was set up of which I was (to my woe) a member.We were limping along pretty well until Some People brought up ideas to make it even better and we ended up with a system that had the major flaw of being very difficult to hand-count. Between that and an elaborate fear campaign mounted by the Red Ants, the public was edgy and suspicious before they got to the polls. If we do continue with IRV, we should revert to the method recommended by the experts, easily counted by hand if verification were required, rather than the complicated “counting the first and second votes at the same time” for council, and eliminating a bunch of losers all at once instead of playing the whole thing out to the end. This only complicated matters.At the risk of agreeing with Marilyn Marks, I don’t understand why the city won’t put all of the ballots up on a website for all to ponder and puzzle over. They’ve been shown on the screen before, they don’t identify the voters, so why not?That all being said, I didn’t like Instant Runoff Voting at all. There were candidates on that ballot whom I wouldn’t have voted for if a gun were put to my head – not first, not ninth, not even if unopposed and the only name on the ballot. In ranking, it FEELS like you’re voting for a person if you check the box, even if the box is the lowest rung on the ladder.I have a modest proposal. Instead of holding an election and then having a runoff election, let’s have a real primary election. Call it a primary and immediately it loses importance – it’s just that quick exercise voters do to separate the wheat from the chaff.No Squirm Night, no major debates where everyone has 32 seconds to show their stuff.We could hold the primary election in early April and then hold the real election in early June (before Food & Wine, one would hope), with all the bells and whistles, slanderous ads, debates on GrassRoots and general hoopla among the two top mayoral and four top council candidates. We have almost two years to plan it.
Su Lum is a longtime local who will be ready for the games to begin. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.