Editorial: A better runoff

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By The Staff

Surely every local voter knows that, here in Las Vegas, a candidate doesn’t need a majority to win an election. All that’s needed is more votes than any other candidate running for the same position. Consequently, majority rule doesn’t apply to our mayoral and council races — and much if not most of the time, the winner doesn’t get a majority.

In 2008, for example, Tony Marquez was elected mayor by just a little more than a third of the vote, or 39.7 percent, while Andrew Feldman, with 40.4 percent, didn’t fare much better. (In the third municipal position on the ballot last year, Diane Moore ran unopposed.) Go back to previous municipal elections and you’ll find the same trend — candidates won with only a plurality of the votes cast.

Of course, there’s a way to impose the true will of the people — establish runoff elections. The more typical method is to hold a second election, usually two or three weeks later, with the top two vote-getters facing off. The turnout for such a runoff is generally much lower than the first election, but at least it’s effective in getting a single candidate elected by a majority.

At the very least, Las Vegas needs a runoff election — which we will hopefully get to approve after a better, more progressive option is shot down.

Yes, you read that right. We believe there’s a better option out there — instant runoff voting — but it’s looking more and more like it will go down in defeat.

Here’s how it works: Each voter ranks their choices for the position in question and, at first, only the voter’s top choice is counted. But if, after the first count, no single candidate has a majority, the candidate with the fewest number of first-round votes is eliminated and that candidate’s ballots are redistributed at full value to the remaining candidates according to the voters’ second choice. The process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority.

It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t, and for the voter it’s really very simple — instead of casting only one vote per race, you rank your preferences from your favorite candidate to your least favorite candidate and that’s that. It’s being done elsewhere and former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean as well as former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain have endorsed it.

At least week’s Las Vegas City Council meeting, in a 3-2 vote, the idea was rejected. The Charter Commission proposed sending it to the voters for approval or rejection and the mayor and two councilors said no. Concern was that voters wouldn’t understand it, which is an underestimation, in our opinion, of the intelligence of our citizenry. Sure, there may be confusion now as to how instant-runoff voting would work — even councilor Andrew Feldman, a supporter, got mixed up with the details — but once it’s on the ballot for voter approval there will be plenty of time to explain the process in a way that people will understand it. Then, we believe, people would see how it creates a better, more efficient system of voting, where spoilers are eliminated and the true will of the people will prevail.

But, alas, it appears as if the council majority will not allow such an approach to come before the city's voters. Instead, they seem more inclined to go with the separate runoff election — a step forward, yes, but not as good an approach as instant runoffs would provide.

That said, any kind of runoff would be better than what we have now. Here’s hoping the mayor and council will place it before the voters in March.