City Council Elections

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.
 
ALTERNATIVES:
 
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.

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