Opinion: No on 2D: Charter ‘clarifications’ limit choice

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022

Learn more about 2D: Charter clarification of candidate issues

Want a second opinion? Read Yes on 2D: Charter changes reflect current practices

By Celeste Landry

Two of the four proposed changes in Ballot Question 2D are bad for candidates and bad for voters: “allow candidates to run for only one office at an election” and “[the process to] fill vacancies for the remainder of the vacated term.”  These 2 provisions, respectively, reduce the number of serious mayoral candidates and diminish the voice of voters when filling council seats.  As we work toward a more perfect democracy, voters should reject Question 2D and demand a better process.

First, some background on municipal candidate elections:

  • Boulder has a “weak” mayor who presides over meetings but has no more power than other council members
  • Mayors have historically been elected by the entire nine-member council, and any council member (newly elected or midway through their term) could run for mayor
  • Mayor term = 2 years
  • Standard council term = 4 years
  • The new mayoral election will be conducted using the Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV) form of Ranked Choice Voting – an improvement over traditional plurality voting because IRV can elect a good candidate even when multiple good candidates split the vote

Let’s consider three reasons to reject the first provision restricting (or “allowing”) candidates to run for only one office. 

Who would run for mayor? A serious political campaign can be a huge amount of work. All else being equal (and a weak mayor is equal to the other council members), candidates prefer to run for a longer four-year term than a shorter two-year mayoral term. Viable mayoral candidates are likely to be limited to people who have “nothing to lose,” i.e.,

  • Council members with two years left in their term, and
  • Term-limited council members

What is the impact of fewer mayoral candidates? Voters will have less choice. How ironic! Just when Boulder starts using IRV to give voters a more expressive ranking ballot, Question 2D would discourage candidates from entering the race. If the mayoral contest has only one or two viable candidates, IRV’s instant runoff won’t be triggered and voters might as well have voted the old “choose one” ballot.

A third reason to allow candidates to run for both mayor and council is to preserve the ability of good candidates to be public servants. In the current system, a council member who runs for mayor but doesn’t win continues serving as a council member. That should continue. 

A good candidate who doesn’t get elected mayor should be able to get enough support to win one of the council seats. If someone is elected to both offices, then, as Boulder has traditionally done, the charter and/or city code should be written to stipulate that the person serve as mayor for the first two years and then continue in a council seat the following two years. 

Voters should reject Question 2D because it stifles choices. We should encourage more candidates to run in our mayoral contest and give voters a more expressive voice in filling the council seats. 

City council should go back to the drawing board, consult with election experts, and pass updated language to address the non-problem of someone running for both mayor and council.

Celeste Landry is a member of Boulder Beat’s Opinion Panel. Learn more about Celeste.

This op-ed does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Beat, its writers, editors or contributors.

Governance Opinion

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  1. FYI — Part of the argument against the first bad provision was cut before this opinion piece was posted and the entire argument against the second bad provision was cut. See the cut selections below. I hope that they can get restored to the posting instead of being relegated to this “Reply” section — Celeste Landry

    —- rest of argument against restricting people to run for one office —-
    A reason cited for restricting candidates to only 1 ballot contest is that Colorado Revised Statute 1-4-501 (2) reads, “No person is eligible to be a candidate for more than one office at one time.” However, Boulder is a home rule city and is not bound by this state statute for our municipal-only elections.

    The city’s campaign finance rules do not anticipate someone running for both municipal seats simultaneously, but, fortunately, the campaign finance rules are in the Boulder Revised Code which city council can change before our first mayoral election in 2023. Changing city code does not require a vote of the electorate – in contrast to charter changes like Question 2D. Here are 2 mutually exclusive suggestions for changing city code:
    • Allow a candidate to have 2 candidate committees: 1 for mayor and 1 for council.
    • Allow a candidate to have a joint mayor-council candidate committee.
    City council may also want to adjust campaign finance limits but should do so with an eye to encouraging candidates to run for both offices. State statute is not an obstacle to someone running for both municipal offices, and, if council has the political will, it can change city code as needed.

    — argument against the provision on filling vacancies —
    Now let’s consider the second problematic provision concerning filling vacancies.

    City charter language states that if a sitting council member with 2 years remaining on their term is elected mayor, then the 5th highest vote-getter in the council contest gets to fill the 2-year council vacancy.

    With a mayoral contest on the ballot, the charter restricts voters to selecting 4 council candidates on their ballot, but there are 2 cases when voters would want to vote for 5 council candidates:
    · If a continuing council member is elected mayor, that creates a 5th vacancy on council for a 2-year council seat.
    · If a candidate runs for both mayor and council, voters would want to be able to mark 5 council choices on their ballot in case the candidate is elected mayor.

    Boulder voters would feel that their voice is stifled by not being able to select 5 council candidates in the cases above. Voters could better express their opinions either through ready-to-implement Approval Voting (vote for all the candidates you support – not limited to 4 or 5 choices) or a proportional voting method (which ensures that city council proportionally reflects the will of the electorate).
    —- end of missing sections on post —–

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