Eye on election reform a good start

Published July 13th 2007 in Aspen Times
Aspen City Council is poised to take a hard look at what we feel are flawed, and unnecessary, steps in the election process.

History, however, is the best judge.

There have been three runoff city elections since 2001, all of which have generated the same outcomes of the prior votes. In 2001, Helen Klanderud got 850 votes in the mayoral election, and Rachel Richards received 658. In the runoff, Klanderud won.

In May 2003, Torre got 566 votes in the race for City Council, and Tony Hershey received 542. Torre won the runoff. In May 2005, Jack Johnson received 823 votes for council, and Dee Malone got 671 votes. Johnson won the runoff.

And last month, Mick Ireland defeated Tim Semrau in the runoff for Aspen's mayoral post, a month after being the top vote-getter in the May election. The same could be said for Steve Skadron, who won decisively over Toni Kronberg in the runoff after beating her in May.

This exercise in determining the inevitable could be alleviated with alternative election methods, such as instant voting and other processes that would allow voters to express preferences on multiple candidates.

We applaud City Councilman Jack Johnson and City Clerk Kathryn Koch for researching these options.

The council, meanwhile, will be looking at other changes to the election process as well, including moving the May municipal elections to June. This makes sense for many reasons, chiefly because we believe there would be a higher voter turnout during June, when the summer tourism season is getting cranked up, as opposed to May, when many residents are vacationing for the offseason.

Also, the council will be mulling over whether to extend the mayor's term of two years to four years. This seems like a reasonable idea, as two years doesn't seem like enough time for a mayor to finish what he or she started. A short term also can open the door for the mayor to politicize issues that don't warrant such treatment. A longer term, however, would translate into fewer mayoral elections - one every four years instead of two - and less grandstanding by our top elected official.

The sum of these parts makes for a smoother election process. We hope our elected officials move forward with this in a steadfast way, and eventually put the fate of our election system in voters' hands. An instant runoff system, June elections and a longer mayoral term will make local democracy more efficient, and in the end save time and taxpayer money.