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City Council Should Never Alter Election Rules [OPINION]

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A decision by the Sioux Falls City Council to change the percentage of votes needed to win a seat on the council is a fundamental and disturbing conflict with the principals of democracy.

The council initially made the change in September and then this week re-affirmed that decision by shooting down a proposal to put the question to voters as an amendment to the City Charter. The council voted 4-4 on Tuesday – with the mayor breaking the tie – against asking voters to weigh in on in the decision to require council candidates to win 50 percent plus one – rather than 34 percent — of the vote to avoid a run-off election.

As it stands now, due to the initial council vote without warning or public input in September, the new rules will apply to the coming election in April.

There was a lot of twisted logic in the recent arguments on Tuesday against putting it on the ballot. It struck me that there was either a fundamental misunderstanding of elections or a purposeful ignoring of the public trust in this vote.

I see this as a clear move against what one might call the grassroots movement on the council with the emergence of Theresa Stehly, Pat Starr and Greg Neitzert.

Equating a council vote and run off to the party primary general election system is absurd. But it happened on Tuesday.

Before the change, councilors only needed 34 percent of the vote in the first round of elections to avoid a run-off three weeks later. That’s known as a plurality.

The mayor on the other hand, needs 50 percent plus 1 vote to win outright in the first round. That’s known as a majority vote.

And contrary to what was thrown around in the council meeting there are many partisan elections that don’t require a majority to win, including the governor or Congress. The winners often do get more than 50 percent, but particularly in races with a third party — such as Libertarians or Independents — it can be less than that threshold.

But city elections aren’t partisan. That is not a valid comparison.

But that’s not really the issue here.

No matter what you think about the plurality versus majority as the preferred threshold, the way this was proposed and implemented has been anti-democratic to say the least.

The people currently serving on a political panel should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER decide the process under which they or future candidates should be elected.


I hope that somebody initiates a challenge through petition to challenge this change and let the people decide. In this case, the process is more important than the outcome.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its staff, contributors, affiliates or advertisers.

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