Tulsans to vote on making city elections nonpartisan
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Sunday, October 09, 2011
10/09/11 at 11:52 AM
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Editor's note: The Tulsa World will highlight each of the four ballot questions that seek changes to the city's form of government in Sunday articles leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to make Tulsa's municipal races nonpartisan.
Some City Council races have been decided during the primaries in the past, leaving voters of the other political party without a say in who represents them.
"There are no Republican or Democrat potholes," said Leonard Eaton, a member of Save Our Tulsa, a nonprofit group sponsoring the proposal.
The nonpartisan elections proposal is one of four ballot questions seeking changes to the city government, ranging from significant tweaks to a total replacement.
It's one of the three placed on the ballot through an initiative petition process by Save Our Tulsa.
A fourth question was placed on the ballot by the City Council.
The proposed changes are a reaction to the constant state of discord between the council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett since the beginning of 2010.
In 1990, the city changed from a city commission structure to a strong mayor and council structure.
State law requires the three Save Our Tulsa questions to be considered independently.
Nonpartisan: The goal of the proposal is to allow as many people as possible to decide their local representative, Eaton said.
"It would allow the best two candidates to advance to the general race," he said.
During this year's primaries, the District 5 council seat was decided in the Republican primary. No Democrat filed.
District 5 has 8,921 Republicans, 9,279 Democrats and 2,369 independents, Tulsa County Election Board registration records show.
The District 1 seat was decided in the Democratic primary.
District 1 has 14,718 Democrats and only 1,742 Republicans and 1,651 independents, records show.
"Having a nonpartisan ballot will allow more voters to participate in those situations where a primary-only election occurs," said Chris Benge, Tulsa Metro Chamber senior vice president of government affairs.
"With the challenges we see today in municipal government, it is more important than ever to have maximum public input in the process and to operate in a process free from the pitfalls partisanship can bring," Benge said.
Under the nonpartisan proposal, 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.
Pro: Supporters say the change can have the effect of both increasing voter turnout and ensuring voter participation, regardless of political affiliation
It would also ensure that the elected councilor is accountable to the entire district and give greater credibility to the victory.
Con: Critics contend the political parties can play a role in recruiting and electing candidates by providing workers and information sources, which can be particularly helpful to women and minority candidates. Party affiliation helps voters make decisions.
Election date glitch: The ballot question also calls for a September primary and a possible runoff between the primary and November general election in even-numbered years.
However, Tulsa County Election Board Assistant Secretary Shelly Boggs said the state dictates the day and month each year when elections can be held, and none are held in September and October of even-numbered years.
If those dates are not changed, it would be up to the city to conduct the elections and "it would be tremendously expensive."
The city could hire a private firm to conduct the election, much like the Cherokee Nation did.
If voters approve the ballot question, it would take another vote to fix the election dates.
Shall the charter of the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, be amended to provide for the nonpartisan election of city officers?
Original Print Headline: Should city races remain partisan? Voters decide
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382