Homer Council turns back election change
Since the defeat of President Donald Trump in November, there have been hundreds of bills introduced across the nation at every level of government by conservative politicians to change voting procedures.
The Homer City Council, ostensibly a non-partisan body, faced an ordinance last night that would have fundamentally changed the way elections are conducted. It was introduced just a few weeks ago by Councilmember Heath Smith.
“You know, I participate in elections as a voter and now as a candidate for a couple elections, and I have witnessed over the years people advocate for the use of one vote versus two in order to increase the chances of electing somebody,” Smith said. “And I never gave it much thought actually up until my election six years ago when I went in to cast a vote for myself and then caught myself wondering why would I cast another vote for anybody else if it’s a vote against me.”
Smith wants candidates to be able to pick which council incumbent they wished to run against by designating specific seats on the council. Currently, all candidates run together for two available seats. Smith claims it’s an unfair method that is “easy to game,” or manipulate.
Others disagree. Council Member Rachel Lord says she’s never seen a “one-vote” strategy be used in any kind of organized way as Smith alleges.
“That primary concern of the manipulation of the alleged manipulation of votes, I can't say that that doesn't happen. I have never, as a fairly active citizen, engaged with a number of different organizations over my voting life, I've never been asked to do that, to withhold one of my votes to influence the outcome of an election,” Lord said.
Under the current “at-large” system, the top two vote-getters always win, which is not the case with designated seats. The fact that all the candidates must face each other in an open election is something Lord says is a benefit to the community, not a detriment.
“This is a non-partisan body in a divisive community with a lot of hot button issues. And I believe that the way we currently hold elections allows for a less partisan and less nasty campaign season that really does have at least the potential to stay more related to the issues at hand of running the city, and what's in the best interest of the community as a whole,” Lord said.
Mayor Ken Castner pointed out that elections with designated seats can also be used specifically to target an office-holder for removal, which he said is a valid purpose.
“In my case, you know, when somebody doesn't like the way that I act as mayor or my rules or anything like that, then they have the right to run against me and get rid of me. And I think that that's a legitimate sort of a thing,” Castner said. “So now you're all wondering, is he going to vote and break this tie? And I don't know. I mean, I'm tempted, but I also like it when you six figure things out on your own. So, I don't know. I think that there is merit in saying that it is not only a placement process, but it's also a removal process. And if you look at it that way, then that's an important thing to look at.”
Castner mentioned the tie. Council members Smith, Joey Evensen and co-sponsor Storm Hansen-Cavasos voted yes on the ordinance, while council members Lord, Donna Adderhold and Caroline Venuti voted no. Mayor Castner, in a rare tie-breaker, cast his lot with the no-votes, but urged the council to explore the issue some more and maybe offer it to the voters in the community to decide.