DC needs to add a runoff element to the elections process
I have a master list of steps DC could take to improve the local political and governance process ("Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)") although it's in need of a wee bit of updating.
The Little-Known Election That's About to Cost the District $300,000," Washington City Paper).
(In Oregon and Colorado all elections are conducted via the mail, which is good for the Postal Service. In Washington State, state and national elections are conducted by mail, and counties have the option of running their elections by mail, and most do.)
Ward-based special elections. For Council seats, because so many people run, the person who gets elected wins without a majority of votes. In the Ward 6 race in the late 1990s, there were close to 20 candidates.
In the special elections in 2007, for Ward 4 after Adrian Fenty became mayor, there were 19 candidates and in the Ward 7 election which was held because Vincent Gray moved up to Council Chairman, there were 18 candidates. Muriel Bowser won the W4 seat with about 40% of the vote and Yvette Alexander won the W7 seat with about one-third of the vote.
In the 2012 special election for Ward 5, Kenyan McDuffie won with about 42% of the vote, and of the eleven other candidates, two had vote totals in the double digits.
The Home Rule Charter specifies that at least one of the positions has to be held by the non-dominant political party--in this case the Democrats. In the recent past such seats had been held by Republicans (Carol Schwartz, David Catania) or the Statehood-Green Party (Hilda Mason).
But in 1988, then Democrat William Lightfoot figured out he could run as an "independent" and still be eligible to be seated upon election, and that has unleashed a large number of Democrats switching to independent and running that way.
Now, Republicans and Statehood-Green candidates are outpolled by Democrats running as independents for seats as At-Large Council Members.
Because David Catania is stepping down from his Council seat to run for Mayor, this year's at-large Council race has 15 candidates, as most feel that they might have a shot running for seat without an incumbent running.
In all likelihood, Democrat Anita Bonds will win one seat. The other seat will go to whoever gets the highest number of votes who is not a Democrat. (In theory, a party candidate from the dominant party could be outpolled by two other candidates and therefore not be elected, but that hasn't happened yet.)
Anita Bonds is running as Democrat, Eugene Puryear for the Statehood-Greens, Marc Morgan for the Republicans, and Frederick Steiner as a Libertarian. The other 11 candidates are running as independents, and many have been traditionally affiliated with the Democratic party. Those candidates are Michael D. Brown, Wendell Felder, Calvin H. Gurley, Graylan Scott Hagler, Brian Hart, Eric J. Jones, Khalid Pitts, Kishan Putta, Elissa Silverman, Courtney R. Snowden, and Robert White.
Council Chairman race. There are five candidates, but Phil Mendelson, the current office holder and stalwart Democrat, is likely to win in a landslide.
Attorney General race. There are five candidates running for this newly created elected position.
Normally, the seat would have been part of the primary election cycle, but this year because of unusual circumstances, that did not occur. So all five candidates are running as Democrats in the General Election, when normally only one Democratic nominee would be on the General Election ballot. The likelihood of one candidate winning a majority of the votes is remote.
This year's Mayoral race. This year's Mayoral election has multiple candidates as well, the Democrat Muriel Bowser, two former Republicans who have served on City Council and are well known across the city running as Independents, David Catania and Carol Schwartz, Bruce Majors running as the Libertarian Party candidate, Faith for the Statehood-Green Party, and another independent, Nestor Djonkam.
In a normal year, the Democratic nominee would win in a landslide, with more than 50% of the vote.
This year, because of two prominent independent candidates, it is not expected that the winner will poll more than 40% of the vote ("For DC's black voters, the choice isn't so clear," Washington Post).
Recommendation: DC should add runoff requirements for elections when the winning candidate receives less than 50% of the vote
In most special elections, people point out that the winning candidate was outpolled by other the total of two or more of the other candidates, with no candidate receiving a majority of the votes.
One alternative, which is in my master list of recommended changes, is to have ranked choice voting (a variant of proportional voting). This would distribute the votes upward, as each candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and votes are redistributed.
But the likelihood of passing such a system is remote. Recently, this was tried for one election in Pierce County, Washington ("The highly paid DC City Council and governance and voting systems") but was overturned soon after the 2008 election cycle.
Therefore, I recommend that DC add a runoff requirement for elections to all offices, when the top vote getter doesn't get a majority of the votes.
With the 2014 election cycle, it would mean certain runoffs in the At-Large, Attorney General, and Mayoral races.
Yes, it does add expense to the process, but it would make the elections more competitive and increase the possibility of "regime change" as in most cases, the Democratic nominee will win a plurality (the most) but not necessarily a majority of votes.
Past at-large elections. In the 2013 special election, Democrat Anita Bonds won with 31% of the vote. There were seven candidates and two progressive candidates had 35% of the vote between them, and Republican Patrick Mara had 24% of the vote. A runoff would have pitted Anita Bonds against progressive candidate Elissa Silverman.
In the 2011 special election, Vincent Orange won with about 29% of the vote. There were nine candidates total, and Republican Patrick Mara got about 25% of the vote. Had there been a runoff, Orange and Mara would have gone head-to-head.