NOREEN: Majority rules — most of the time

April 5, 2013
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Four of the six winners in the April 2 Colorado Springs City Council race got less than 40 percent of the vote and will take office with tepid pluralities, given that overall voter turnout was only 39 percent.

Those results beg the question, and quite a few people have been asking it: Should the city change its current election law to require runoff elections for City Council guaranteeing that the winner gets a majority of votes cast?

“Absolutely,” said Micah Will, who managed Al Loma’s unsuccessful council bid in District 5. “We can come up with some options here.”

Right after the election Will was emailing and Facebooking about the results, saying he’s going to push for a city charter amendment that would require the runoff elections. Incidentally, Loma would not have qualified even if a runoff system was in place, so this is not sour grapes on Will’s part.

Jill Gaebler won that race with 36 percent of the vote and a 735-vote margin.

“District 6 was a perfect example,” Will said, noting that Andres Pico won with 34 percent, followed by David Moore with 33 percent and Ed Bircham with 32 percent. Pico’s winning margin was just 159 votes.

A runoff would have included the top two finishers, Pico and Moore, and the race was so close it’s impossible to predict how Bircham’s votes would be split.

A runoff is “something to be considered for the future,” said Moore, who had nothing but praise for the way Pico conducted his campaign. “Make no mistake. We knew what the rules were,” Moore added.

Yet given the low turnout, Moore couldn’t help noting that “such a small percentage decided the city’s future. I can understand if people had problems with it.”

Incumbent Councilman Bernie Herpin lost his seat when Jill Gaebler garnered 36 percent of the vote. Herpin got 31 percent.

Changing to a runoff system is “something to look at,” said Herpin, who thinks he might have won a runoff race.

“In my race (Roger) McCarville was the Tea Party guy and he drew votes from me. In a runoff who knows what would have happened?”

In District 4, many observers thought Deborah Hendrix and Dennis Moore split the relatively heavy black vote, allowing Helen Collins to win with 39 percent. In a runoff Hendrix would have faced Collins and again, there might have been a different result, because Collins won won by only 269 votes.

Incumbent Brandy Williams lost her seat when Keith King got 39 percent of the vote. Williams had 33 percent, and how the other votes would have split between King and her in a runoff is pure conjecture; King had a 788-vote margin.

But consider: In April 2011, Richard Skorman outdistanced a large field in the mayoral race but did not get 50 percent of the votes. Steve Bach came in second and easily defeated Skorman in the runoff a few weeks later.

Before 2011 a mayor could win with a plurality, but the city’s switch to a strong mayor system included the runoff system.

If Colorado Springs is to become a place where the majority rules, “now is the perfect time for it,” Will said. “All the variations of how this could look should be up for public discussion.”

Got a question? Contact Barry Noreen at 636-0363 or at Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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