Wednesday, October 20, 2004

SV elections for open-seats resurfaces

Mayor to ask council to amend council-seat election process

Express Staff Writer

The mayor of Sun Valley this week will ask the City Council to amend the process by which members of the four-person council are elected by the public.

Mayor Jon Thorson said Monday that he intends to ask the council on Thursday, Oct. 21, to vote on his recommendation that the city abolish its designated-seat election process in favor of an open-seat system.

?I?m going to ask, ?Is there enough will on the part of the City Council to change from assigned seats to open seats??? Thorson said. ?I hope the answer is ?yes.??

At issue is a proposal brought forth last year by Sun Valley resident Milton Adam to establish a system that awards council seats to at-large candidates that earn the most votes from the public, instead of candidates who earn the most votes for a specific seat.

Under a system approved in 1995, Sun Valley currently asks the electorate to vote every other year for two separate candidates seeking to fill specific numbered seats on the council. Terms on the council last for four years, with two members of the panel being reelected or replaced every two years.

Candidates are required in the process to designate which of the two seats up for election they intend to fill.

Adam has repeatedly argued that designated-seat elections favor incumbents and inhibit a fruitful debate of important issues.

Indeed, under the current system, two incumbents running in the same year do not have to campaign against each other.

In his arguments, Adam has noted that only 14 of Idaho?s approximately 200 cities employ the designated-seat format, most of those being larger cities.

?For small cities, like Sun Valley, designated-seat elections manipulate the election process and deprive the voters of freedom to cast their choice and ballots in whatever way they choose,? Adam wrote in a July 2003 memo to the city?s elected officials.

Reviving the issue this month, Thorson said in an Oct. 14 memo to the City Council that open-seat elections are appropriate for small cities such as Sun Valley.

One reason, he said, is because the designated-seat system can discourage citizens from running for office because they do not want to compete against someone they know.

?Open voting limits that by focusing on the job (City Council work), not the differences between personalities,? Thorson noted.

The mayor also noted that designated-seat elections can result in a situation in which a voter might find that he or she prefers two candidates who are running for the same seat but can only vote for one of them.

The city of Ketchum?after a long public debate on the matter?in February 2003 returned to an open-seat election process after spending approximately two years under the designated-seat election process.

In previous discussions about the issue, opponents of the open-seat election process have said such elections are mathematically prone to biased results because of so-called ?bullet voting??the practice of voters selecting only one candidate for two or more seats.

Despite the concern about bullet voting, Thorson might find support for his proposal.

Last summer, Councilwoman Ann Agnew once issued a motion that the city implement open-seat elections, subject to legal review. Councilman Lud Renick issued a second but an additional discussion of the matter eventually prompted Agnew to withdraw her motion.

Sun Valley Elections

Since the city of Sun Valley adopted the designated-seat election format in 1995, four council seats have been filled by unopposed candidates. Three of the four unopposed candidates were incumbents. In the same period, three incumbents have lost their seats.

The results:

· 1995 election:

For Seat 1, challenger James Dowen (229 votes) defeated incumbent Joseph Humphrey (177 votes).

For Seat 2, incumbent David Wilson ran unopposed, apart from eight write-in votes.

For Seat 4, challenger Linda O?Shea (219 votes) defeated incumbent Suresh Shivdasani (200 votes).

· 1997 election:

For Seat 3, incumbent Kevin Laird (111 votes) ran unopposed.

For Seat 4, incumbent O?Shea (115 votes) ran unopposed.

· 1999 election:

For Seat 1, for which the incumbent did not run, Latham Williams (206 votes) defeated Nicholas Parker (61 votes) and Milton Adam (59 votes).

For Seat 2, vacated after Wilson ran unopposed for mayor, Lud Renick (268 votes) ran unopposed.

· 2001 election:

For Seat 3, incumbent Laird (263 votes) defeated challenger Susan Bailey (185 votes).

For Seat 4, challenger Ann Agnew (244 votes) defeated incumbent O?Shea (220 votes).

· 2003 election:

For Seat 1, challenger Blair Boand (355 votes) defeated challenger Matthew Colesworthy (213 votes). Incumbent Latham Williams vacated his seat to run for mayor.

For Seat 2, incumbent Renick (299 votes) defeated challenger Milton Adam (265 votes).

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