In The News › Change aims to rid ‘singleshot’

Oct 21, 2012

Source: The Advocate

Filed under: City Government, Governance, On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

Change aims to rid ‘singleshot’

The Advocate, New Orleans bureau
October 21, 2012

New Orleans — When Orleans Parish voters go to the polls Nov. 6, one of the votes they cast might affect how they vote in the future. On the ballot is a charter amendment that would change the somewhat confusing way at-large City Council members are elected.

Though there are two at-large council members, candidates at present run in one field, with voters able to cast ballots for two candidates.

If passed, the charter amendment would set separate races for the two seats. It would take effect in 2014.

Under the current system, any two candidates who earn at least 25 percent of the vote are elected. If no two candidates get 25 percent of the vote, a runoff election is held for one or both seats.

The proposed amendment would see at-large seats filled through separate elections, with candidates declaring during qualifying which seat he or she is seeking. Winners would need at least 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff.

Part of the reason the amendment is under consideration is to ensure that a majority of the voters casting ballots are electing their at-large representatives.

Under the current setup, if everyone voting in an at-large election casts both allowed votes, the requirement for 25 percent means the winners would have support of at least 50 percent of voters.

In practice, however, many people cast just one vote, which can skew the numbers and allow a candidate to win with less than a majority of the vote.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a government watchdog, estimates that between 18 percent and 39 percent of voters cast only one vote during the last five at-large primaries. That action is sometimes know as a “singleshot” vote.

The belief is that by limiting the number of votes cast, one can help ensure his preferred candidate’s success.

“It is impossible to know how many of the singleshot votes were cast strategically and how many were cast by voters who were unaware they could vote for two candidates,” BGR notes in a report on the topic.

Should the measure pass, the only thing that will change is the election process.

A two-term limit would still remain, meaning a candidate could not move to another seat after completing two terms in office.

While the changes don’t have any obvious racial implications, the issue is in the background.

Some supports think the change would increase the chances of African-American leadership on the dais.

Since 2007, the council, which represents a city that is 60 percent black, has had a majority white membership. And while the two at-large seats are presently filled by whites, one was filled by an African-American for about 30 years, following an unwritten rule of sorts, until Jackie Clarkson joined former Councilman Arnie Fielkow in the second at-large chair.

That is one aspect to consider, according to the BGR. The government watchdog agency pointed out in a report on the proposal that Stacy Head and Clarkson each defeated African-American candidates in single-seat elections that were governed by the same rules as the ones proposed in the amendment.

Discussion about the charter change began in early April.

District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and interim At-Large Councilman Eric Granderson called for an election on a proposed ordinance to rewrite the charter. The two said the new legislation would ensure that the winner of each seat received a majority of the votes.

The council first considered an election on the ordinance May 3. Any further action came to a screeching halt when the proposal failed on a tie vote of 3-3. Three council members, Clarkson, Head and District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, said they wanted to continue to examine the issue and have public discussions about it before making a decision. A walkout by Hedge-Morrell and Jon Johnson followed, and the two did not return for meetings until June 7.

The election proposal passed on June 28 with little discussion.

Oct 21, 2012

Source: The Advocate

Filed under: City Government, Governance, On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

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