Instant Runoff Voting Goes Forward

By Curtis Wackerle
Published July 18th 2007 in Aspen Daily News
Instant runoff voting, a system that does away with runoff elections as voters rank their candidate choices, may be coming to the city of Aspen.

The Aspen City Council decided at a Tuesday work session to let voters decide in November if they want to adopt instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting.

The council chose not to go forward with a charter amendment that would have moved city elections to either April or June. They also held off on a proposal brought forward by Mayor Mick Ireland to make the mayor's term four years instead of the current two.

With instant runoff voting, voters assign ranks to candidates. If their first-choice candidate comes in last place, their vote is assigned to their second-choice candidate. This process is repeated until one candidate gets a majority of the vote.

While the process is fairly simple for contests in which multiple candidates are running for the same seat, it becomes more complicated for races in which candidates are running for multiple seats, as is common with most Aspen council races.

The November ballot question will simply ask voters if they want instant runoff voting. If the voters do, the council will figure out the mechanics of the system after the vote.

City Attorney John Worcester will draft the ballot language. The council has until early September to approve the language and place it on the ballot.

On the question of whether to move city elections to either April or June, the council was considering holding elections during a busier time of the year, when more people are in town, as a way to spur higher voter turnout. The council said they would study the issue more, but did not see a pressing reason to put the question on the November ballot.

Ireland proposed changing the mayor's term from two years to four because a two-year term leaves little time for a mayor to get much done, he argued. Speaking to his experience as a county commissioner, he said there are merits to the Pitkin County system where all board members serve equal terms and elect the chair amongst themselves.

Others on council said that having the mayor serve a two-year term -- which results in the possibility for a majority turnover on council every two years -- is a staple of Aspen democracy.

While a two-year term may be too short for the mayor, "I don't know that it's too short for the town," Councilman Jack Johnson said.

Councilman Dwayne Romero said Aspen likes its spirited mayoral campaigns.

Aspenites "take strong civic pride in their ability to vote for their mayor," Romero said.

And the proposal for essentially eliminating a strictly defined mayor's seat in favor of a rotating chairmanship could create its own problems, with none of the council members wanting to attend to the ceremonial duties of the mayor.

"Someone needs to go and cut the ribbons," Worcester said.