Should Glenwood Springs have runoff elections for city council? Question could head to voters
A candidate does not need 50% of the vote to be elected to Glenwood Springs City Council.
Instead, the city’s charter states that the candidate who receives the most votes wins – no majority necessary.
But Glenwood Springs voters could be asked as part of this April’s special election whether or not those rules should change.
Specifically, should a runoff occur if a candidate does not receive over half the vote?
According to Mayor Jonathan Godes, no recent council race fueled the discussion. Instead, the topic has lingered among previous mayors and city councilors for quite some time.
“If we, as city council, want to put this on the ballot in April now is the time to make that decision,” Godes said.
While city council decides whether or not to put the question on the ballot, the voters would get the final say in the matter.
“It’s a charter amendment,” Godes said. “It has to go to a vote of the people.”
According to a city council staff report, a city election typically carries with it a price tag of between $12,000 to $15,000.
Additionally, in nearby municipalities like Aspen, residents elect four city councilors and a mayor, which can lead to runoffs.
Aspen residents vote for two city council candidates from the entire field.
The top two candidates then take office “provided that the candidate receives 45% plus one vote, or more, of the votes cast for the office” according to the city’s charter.
If not enough candidates receive over 45% of the vote, then a runoff ensues.
Councilor Tony Hershey, who previously served on Aspen’s City Council, said he opposed the idea of a runoff election in Glenwood Springs.
“I think the concern is if there are like 12 people running and one person wins with 20% of the vote, is that really the will of the people?” Hershey said. “We are lucky to have two or three candidates in any one race. Sometimes people run unopposed.”
In the April 2019 elections, eight candidates ran for four council seats in Glenwood Springs. Two of those races were uncontested as councilors Paula Stepp and Steve Davis ran unopposed.
In 2015, seven candidates ran for four city council seats in Glenwood Springs. In that election, councilors Todd Leahy and Michael Gamba ran unopposed for the Ward 3 and Ward 4 seats respectively.
Additionally, that election’s closest contest was that of former councilor Kathryn Trauger defeating her two opponents with over 60% of the vote.
Aspen residents, unlike Glenwood Springs voters, also directly elect their mayor.
In Glenwood Springs, a city with nearly 10,000 residents, seven city councilors decide who serves as mayor.
“I think a direct election of the mayor by voters would increase their participation in the city’s affairs,” Councilor Rick Voorhees said.
Voorhees also believed a runoff between the top two candidates in ward and at-large races, should a candidate not receive over 50% of the vote, would “produce more interest and more accountability.”
“An additional round might force the candidates to base their platforms on hard facts and research, not simply what they believe the public wants to hear,” Voorhees said.
Council, likely in the coming weeks, will decide whether or not to put the runoff question before voters this April.
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