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One word: Vogelmann. Denver City Councilor Kevin Flynn cites the memorable Best Picture Winner at the 2015 Academy Awards, selected by a ranking vote, as reason enough that the city shouldn’t adopt this system.
But if you need one more: the current chaos in New York City, where the mayor’s race is tied due to glitches in the leaderboard count.
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is one of two options that Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López have proposed to resolve a conflict on the city’s local election calendar. The other? Just move the traditional date for the spring election to April.
“My office has analyzed and determined that both models are viable options and we are ready to manage each option with the standard of excellence that our office is known for,” says López. “We are the best electoral model in the country. I have the best team in the country.
Denver’s current local electoral system calls for elections on the first Tuesday in May; If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the two front-runners will go to the runoff on the first Tuesday in June. However, this schedule conflicts with state and federal laws that require a 45-day shipping deadline for military and foreign citizens on active duty and an 18-day shipping deadline for domestic voters.
“The Denver Charter is out of date with the way modern elections are to be conducted, so I am making two workable recommendations to the Council for voters to consider in November,” says López. Postponing the May elections to April would give enough time to meet shipping deadlines, while a ranked electoral system “would eliminate the need for a runoff overall”.
Governor Jared Polis just enacted HB 1071, which allows local elections in Colorado to use ranked voting. Under the RCV system, voters can order their preferences numerically. If a candidate has a majority of the first votes after the first count, that candidate wins. If there is no majority, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated and those votes go to the candidate listed on the ballot as the second eligible candidate. This process continues until a candidate wins a majority.
Last year Lopez convened a Charter Review Committee to investigate the timing issue. The committee consisted of Alderman Flynn; Michael Cummings, professor of political science at the University of Colorado Denver; Stacie Gilmore, President of Denver City Council; Suffrage attorney Mark Grueskin; former Denver employee and current University of Denver Assistant Vice Chancellor Stephanie O’Malley; Gena Ozols of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights; and Alan Salazar, Mayor Michael Hancock’s chief of staff.
Options considered by the secretary’s office and committee included postponing the elections to November; Majority voting – in which the person with the most votes, and not necessarily the majority, wins; and consent voting, in which voters can vote for any number of candidates.
López also reached out to the public for feedback and received over 1,000 responses from Denver residents and community organizations. “The bureau has heard loud and clear that Denver residents intend to hold local elections in the spring and will continue to vote for officials based on majority voting (50 percent plus one),” a statement from the clerk’s office said.
Five of the seven members of the committee finally recommended that the election simply be postponed from May to April to allow time for a runoff election to get a majority vote.
The dangers of ranking voting.
New regency images
“I like to joke that the Oscars choose the best ranked movie,” says Flynn, who was one of the five. “One word: Vogelmann?”
Denver had previously run a ranked election, he notes, “from 1916 to 1935, and we elected a Klansman three times, a party machine chief once, and a mayor who is arguably the most corrupt we’ve ever had. … Why should we do? again? “
Another problem with ranked voting is that “voters who know the candidate they want and vote for that person are disenfranchised,” says Flynn. “If RCV goes into the second or more counting rounds, that voter will no longer have a say in the outcome.”
But committee member Cummings, who advocates a move to ranked voting, dismisses Flynn’s argument, arguing that voters who vote only one top election “disenfranchised themselves by not indicating their fuller range of preferences”.
López notes that New York City’s mixed-vote problems “appear to be some kind of human error” rather than a systemic problem. “The ranked election voting was in all transparency something that found a lot of support in the community,” he says.
Denver City Council will be considering the two options later this summer to get a constitutional amendment action on the November vote, which may include city-wide issues, if not the Denver political offices.
At least one council member, Candi CdeBaca, is in favor of a ranking vote.
“I support the abolition of costly runoff elections, in which the turnout is always lower than in the initial parliamentary elections. We have to expand, not shrink, participation in local elections, “says CdeBaca, adding that the approval vote is the best system.” The ranked selection is the second best choice to eliminate the runoff, so I support Clerk’s recommendation López. “
But Flynn is holding on. “The runoff ballot (two-round voting system) is the only electoral system that guarantees a majority winner every time,” he emphasizes. “Not only can RCV not guarantee a majority winner, it routinely does so. Our statutes require that all elected offices except the two councilors be elected by a majority of the votes, hence the runoff. RCV violates that.” . “
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.