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For the week of February 28 through March 6, 2001

Election debate continues

Ketchum weighs merits of rules change

"More than 20 percent of our voting population is using the bullet vote to elect the candidate of their choice, and that is not fair to the people of Ketchum who do not understand the power of the bullet vote." 

-Randy Hall, Ketchum City Councilman

Express Staff Writer

About a dozen Ketchum residents attended a Ketchum City Council meeting last week to protest the councilís recent decision to change the way the city conducts its elections. The debate will continue at a meeting Monday at 6 p.m.

"Iíd like to see this room full," Councilman David Hutchinson said. "Itíd make our job a lot easier."

Last month, the council voted unanimously to require council candidates to run for specific seats, and in so doing, to waive the three readings commonly used to change or draft city ordinances.

Councilman Maurice Charlat was absent from that meeting and was upset with his colleaguesí apparent haste.

Under the new system, council seats have assigned numbers, and candidates must select seats they wish to run for. Previously, the two candidates receiving the most votes won the two available seats.

After members of the public protested the councilís decision to change the voting regulations, the council decided to hold a series of public hearings on the issue.

"I was wrong with my vote to do away with the three hearings," Councilman Randy Hall said. "I made a mistake. Before I waive any three readings in the future, I will make sure itís a procedural matter."

Though council members all agree they made a mistake in waiving the three public hearings, but do not yet agree on a voting system.

At the councilís last meeting, Hall and Hutchinson argued in favor of the assigned seats system, while Charlat, who later said he opposes the new system, remained silent.

"I should be able to, as a citizen [candidate], go after the person I disagree with," Hall said, referring to a benefit he perceives will be gained from the assigned seat system.

That benefit, however, only relates to challenging incumbents or candidates who have already filed, BSU political science professor Jim Weatherby said in an interview.

Weatherby also said an unintended consequence from the assigned-seat system can be that candidates may tend to file for an open seat, rather than filing to run against an incumbent.

Hall also said he disagrees with so-called bullet voting as well. Bullet votes are cast when voters choose only one candidate to avoid helping a competitor, even though ballots instruct them to vote for two candidates.

"More than 20 percent of our voting population is using the bullet vote to elect the candidate of their choice, and that is not fair to the people of Ketchum who do not understand the power of the bullet vote," he said.

In the 1999 city council election, which was won by Hall and Charlat, 205 out of 748 voters, or 27 percent, cast bullet votes.

Itís a number that surprised Weatherby, who qualified his surprise by saying he hasnít carefully studied the issue.

"It certainly tells you something about the intensity of their vote," he said.

In the past 10 years, between 10 to 27 percent of those who voted in Ketchum elections have cast bullets. In 1997, 17 percent of the cityís voters cast bullets, and in 1995, 24 percent of voters cast bullets.

Those are numbers that indicate some level of organization behind the bullets, Hall and Hutchinson believe.

"I think itís fundamentally unfair," Hutchinson said. "We know that an insider group of people have been setting up bullet vote campaigns. Two hundred bullet votes in a town of this size is a ton."

Ketchum resident and former Ketchum Councilwoman Sue Noel acknowledged that there could be some organization behind the cityís bullet votes but said she doesnít see it as a negative attribute of the winners-take-all voting system.

"I support their right to do that," she said.

Charlat also sees the bullet-vote argument as "an argument that has no real value." Use of a bullet vote is common, he pointed out, and most people are aware of it.

Charlatís arguments against the new system, so far, are simpler, an "if it ainít broke, donít fix it" sentiment.

"I think weíve heard from the people so far," he said. "What weíve heard is a definite and vocal negative attitude toward the change.

"For some reason we fixed it. Why?"

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