To the editor:
Citizens take note … We’re about to get a change in our city election process. Our elections are nonpartisan but have always included spring primaries when more than two candidates filed for a seat. Our commissioners want to eliminate these primaries due to cost and light turnout. They are leaning heavily toward changing to the “Plurality” method” and that is the only method mentioned thus far. This would mean no spring primary and winner takes all in the regular fall election. A public hearing has been scheduled for the 2/21/13 board meeting for public comment. The change would affect this year’s city voting and three of our board members are up for re-election.
We support elimination of spring primaries but there is a better choice than the Plurality method. Our state laws also provide an option called the “Election-with-Runoff” method. This method eliminates the cost of a primary, which is the main reason for a change, but still requires a winner to get a majority.
Changing our election process is good, but let’s make the new method as fair as possible. The Election-with-Runoff clearly does just that. There would be no primary yet the winner would still represent over half the votes. The “Runoff” part of this method gives an option for a second place candidate to request a runoff only if the first place candidate fails to get 50%+. The winner of a runoff would naturally represent the majority.
Incumbent officials for re-election already have a built in advantage, and the Plurality method could increase that advantage by making it easier to win. For example, if there were four candidates running for a seat, one of them could win with as little as 28% of votes because the other votes could be split three ways. 28% of votes in our last city election equaled only 544 people. No method should allow so few voters to possibly elect a candidate. That small 28% could elect any of the four candidates in the example, but if an incumbent were running he/she would have the advantage of name recognition, attending official functions, news articles, etc. A three person race could have a result almost as unsatisfactory as the four person example.
A candidate winning a Plurality seat with a minority percentage of total votes could not feel that he/she had the support of the majority, and indeed would not have … In the example above, 72% of the votes above would have been for someone else. That is unsatisfactory. With only two candidates there is no problem because the winner will have the majority in either method. The problem with Plurality comes up with more than two candidates for a seat and no one gets 50%+ of votes. Here the votes would be split more ways and Plurality allows a seat to be won easier. With more than two running, the split votes would likely boost the natural advantage of an incumbent.
Eliminating the city primary would save around $10,000 every 2 years. Some might say the Election-with-Runoff would cost the same as a primary, but the State Board of Elections reports that runoffs are very rare among the various cities using this method. With a combined city budget of around $18 Million, surely the relatively small cost of a possible runoff once in a great while is not too much for providing the fairest election process. That’s what democracy is supposed to be all about.
Your input will guide our city board in deciding this issue. The public hearing is not until 2/21/13 but we urge you to call or email our commissioners right away. This affects all citizens and now is the time to make your opinion known.
You can use the city website (mountairy.org) to email commissioners but the addresses are simple. Here’s an example: To reach Commissioner Shirley Brinkley just use SBrinkly@mountairy.org. The others work the same way. There is a list showing all names and phones for our city officials printed every day on the left side of this newspaper page.