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For the week of January 24 through 30, 2001

Ketchum replaces good election system with flawed one

In Sun Valley’s last city election, three candidates battled it out for a single seat, while the only candidate to file for another seat cakewalked to victory.

Instead of being able to choose the best candidates for two seats from a field of four, instead of benefiting from the vigorous clash of ideas that contested candidacies can bring, voters were deprived of a contest.

Yet despite the obvious flaws, the Ketchum City Council last week decided to replace its healthy winners-take-all system with the seat-specific one that failed in Sun Valley.

Ketchum’s system wasn’t broke, but the council decided to fix it anyway.

City council seats are nonpartisan. Thus, candidates are not required to declare their candidacy for party primaries that occur in the spring before the November election.

Candidates can put off filing for a city council seat until the deadline in September. Filing is blind. Under the new system, unless someone files early for a seat—which is usually not the case--no one knows who is running for which seat until the deadline passes.

That didn’t matter with a winners-take—all system. It does now.

It’s how Sun Valley ended up with three candidates for one seat, and only one for the second.

The Ketchum City Council liked this bad idea so much that it dispensed with three readings of the new plan and dispensed with public hearings on the matter. The council decided to proceed because it said no one was interested

Council members Dave Hutchinson, Chris Potters and Randy Hall all seized on the rationale that the new system will make elections issue driven. They made the argument knowing full well that it had proven to be false in Sun Valley. They changed the system even knowing that the new one is seriously flawed.

The council argued the new system will prevent niche candidates from draining votes and defeating otherwise strong candidates—the Buchanan/Nader effect. Nice argument, but even the new system will not prevent that from happening.

The system wasn’t broke, but it is now.


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