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Cedar Rapids needs a better way to elect a mayor
As Cedar Rapidians are still shaking off the holiday-induced brain fog next week, it will suddenly be Election Day again.
A runoff election for Cedar Rapids mayor is scheduled for next Tuesday, Nov. 30. We wonder if throwing an Election Day into the holiday season might be bad for voter engagement. Cedar Rapids should consider a different method for electing a mayor.
Under Iowa law, cities that choose to have runoff elections must hold them four weeks after the city election. That is a quick turnaround even under favorable circumstances — votes must be canvassed and ballots must be printed before early voting can start. Some observers worried the whole process would be delayed this year as the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the mayoral election were within range for a potential recount, but that ultimately was averted by outgoing Mayor Brad Hart's concession.
Early voting for the mayoral election started on Nov. 15, giving citizens fewer days of in-person early voting than the 20 allowed by state law, and even fewer when you account for holiday office closures. The deadline for mail-in ballot requests to be received by the auditor’s office was Nov. 15.
The abbreviated election calendar does not lend itself to a robust campaign of ideas between the candidates. For example, The Gazette was interested in hosting a forum between the candidates Amara Andrews and Tiffany O’Donnell but couldn’t find a suitable date.
There are better ways to decide races without pushing election season into late fall.
One alternative is ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting, which allow voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. It has the same effect as a runoff — candidates can only win by earning more than 50 percent of the vote — but it’s condensed into one ballot.
Some supporters speculate that ranked choice voting would undermine the type of negative campaigning we have seen this year in Cedar Rapids. Candidates might have an incentive to make inroads with their opponents’ supporters to earn second-choice preferences.
Nearly half the states have some form of ranked choice voting, according to FairVote, which advocates for the practice. It’s often a matter of local choice, with jurisdictions deciding whether to adopt it.
Iowa Code currently allows cities to have primaries, runoffs or neither but there is no provision in the law for ranked choice voting. We think the Iowa Legislature should look into it.
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