Costly city-run elections feared
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
6/13/12 at 1:19 PM
Correction: A Wednesday Tulsa World story incorrectly described why no changes could be made to the language accompanying an initiative petition ballot question calling for nonpartisan municipal races in Tulsa. By state law, the city attorney only approves the ballot title, not the initiative petition language. This story has been corrected.
Read continuous coverage on the proposals seeking changes to the city form
City councilors were told Tuesday that voter approval this fall of an initiative petition ballot question for nonpartisan races would be "extremely" costly for Tulsans because it would force the city to conduct some of the elections on its own.
The nonprofit group Save Our Tulsa successfully petitioned to have voters decide Nov. 8 three questions that could make changes to the city's form of government.
A question addressing the nonpartisan races calls for both the primary and runoff races to be held during months in which, by state law, the Tulsa County Election Board does not hold elections, Assistant City Attorney Patrick Boulden said.
"It is obviously in conflict with state law and would mean the city of Tulsa would have to conduct the election in September and the Election Board would not participate," he said.
Boulden said an Election Board official caught the problem and pointed out that "it won't be their problem; the city of Tulsa will have to run the elections."
The ballot question calls for a September primary and a possible runoff between the primary and November general election in even-numbered years.
Tulsa County Election Board Assistant Secretary Shelly Boggs told the Tulsa World that the state dictates the day and month each year when elections can be held by the election board, and none are held in September and October of even-numbered years.
As she has told the city before, it would be up to the city to conduct the elections and "it would be tremendously expensive."
She said that when the election board conducts a stand-alone election for Tulsa it costs between $155,000 to $160,000.
"Look at our cost, and we have the voting machines, employees, precinct sites," she said. "It would be a lot more if we didn't do it."
The election board also does not rent its equipment or services, she said.
Boulden told councilors that initiative petition ballot title was approved by former City Attorney Deirdre Dexter.
He told councilors the only role the city has is to call for the election and submit the ballot documents to the election board because these measures are brought forth through the initiative petition process.
John Rule, attorney for Save Our Tulsa, said the situation "is complicated."
He said the ballot resolution does appear to call for primary elections in September, but there is a separate provision in the City Charter that requires the charter to conform to state law.
Rule said the focus of this ballot question is not the setting of a primary election date, but the calling for nonpartisan races as specified by state law.
"I think a court would look at it and set it to August to conform with state law," he said.
The council made the same primary election mistake several years ago when it changed its elections from April to November and was forced to have to go back to the voters to change it.
But even if the primary date for the initiative petition measure is pushed back to August, the ballot measure includes potential runoff races to be held before the general election, putting September and October back in play.
Rule asked why a runoff election couldn't be held in late August.
Boggs said there is only one election date per month and it would take the courts to order a second election.
When told there is only one election per month, Rule responded: "I don't have an answer."
Save Our Tulsa also has a petition measure that would restructure the council, adding the mayor and at-large councilors, and another that would return the council to two-year terms and align election dates with state and federal elections.
In addition to the three Save Our Tulsa measures, the November ballot will include a council-sponsored measure that calls for a council-city manager form of government to replace the current strong mayor-council structure.
Save Our Tulsa proposal
The adoption of several changes to the current form government are contained in three ballot questions.
- In addition to the nine councilors, three at-large councilors and the mayor would form a 13-member City Council. The mayor would be its chairman and would vote only in cases of a tie.
- Returning council positions to two-year terms and merging elections with the state and federal cycle.
- Changing elected offices to nonpartisan races. A candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary election wins the seat. If nobody receives at least 50 percent, the top two candidates advance to the general election - providing those two combined for at least 50 percent of the primary vote.
- If the top two vote-getters did not combine for 50 percent, a runoff is held among however many candidates are needed to meet the 50 percent requirement.
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382