TOPIC DISCUSSION PAPER: City Council Elections
ISSUE STATEMENT: How should city council members be selected?
EXISTING CHARTER LANGUAGE: Article 8, Section 2 of the city charter delineates the existing system that governs selection of city council members. Existing language requires council members to be elected by position number (one through six); each candidate is required to designate the number of the Council seat to which he or she aspires. A candidate may run for one position in any given election.
Budget implications: Periodic election costs.
Accountability: Council members are elected by the city as a whole and are thus accountable to all voters.
Community/Council impacts: Proponents argue that the existing system results in better debate and clarification of issues. Conversely, critics charge: 1) that the position system can be used to target specific minority candidates; 2) that it unnecessarily complicates the voting process and stymies a citizenís ability to support the candidates of his/her choice; and, 3) that it can allow unchallenged incumbents to avoid scrutiny.
1. Status quo. Charter language remains unchanged.
Budget, accountability and impacts as outlined above.
2. Maintain existing position system with addition of instant voter runoff.
Budget: IVR costs (voter education and election tally) would need to be absorbed by the city.
Accountability: As with the status quo, council members would be accountable to city-wide voters. However, IVR proponents argue that the process empowers minority candidates and thus requires candidates to be more sensitive to the range of voters.
Community/council impacts: Proponents argue that IVR will empower minority candidates and their issues, and perhaps encourage cooperation among candidates, both before and after the election; additionally, IVR may re-energize disenchanted voters through its requirement that the winning candidate amass at least 50% of the vote. Conversely, the complexity of IVR would require extensive voter education.
3. Implement a city-wide ward system; candidates would be elected from six different districts apportioned within city boundaries.
Budget: Ongoing election costs should vary little from the status quo; however, city will experience additional costs from initial implementation and periodic reapportionment.
Accountability: Council members will be accountable to specific neighborhoods and specific neighbors.
Community/council impacts: Proponents argue that wards allow voters to choose candidates who reflect the specific needs of a neighborhood, thus ensuring that the local agenda is represented on the council. Conversely, critics charge that the ward system can encourage divisiveness and undermine a city-wide vision.
4. Implement a city-wide ward system with addition of instant voter runoff.
Budget, accountability, and impacts as outlined in options 2 and 3 above.
5. Eliminate position system in favor of city-wide at-large election. Top vote-getters would win council seats at issue.
Budget: Ongoing election costs should vary little from the status quo.
Accountability: Candidates/council members will be accountable to city-wide voters.
Community/council impacts: Proponents argue that a city-wide at large election (no positions, no wards) will simplify the voting process and enable voters to support their candidates of choice; streamlining the selection process could result in more voter participation. Additionally, an open field would require all candidates to campaign for office and actively debate the issues.