The first Saturday of June, Charlottesville Democrats will gather at 1pm in the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center to nominate three candidates for November’s 2008 City Council race. It will be only the fourth time that voters will cast their votes directly for the nominees. It used to be that candidates were selected by convention attendees, and based on those votes a candidate could select delegates who then went and selected the actual candidates. “It was a kludge of a system,” says Kevin Lynch, an outgoing city councilor who was first elected in 2004.
Two-time City Councilor Meredith Richards lost her seat thanks to the 2004 Democratic Nominating Convention. If you’re in the donkey-way, get in on the ousting party at this year’s Nominating Convention on June 2.
“A lot of it has to do with the dynamics and the mechanics of the vote casting,” says Meredith Richards. The two-time city councilor was ousted at the 2004 Nominating Convention, when she narrowly lost to a slate of three candidates, including Kendra Hamilton (who is not running again), Lynch (who is not running again, either) and Mayor David Brown (who is). Four were running and in a remarkable instance, all received more than 50 percent, as voters are allowed to cast as many as three selections. After the first vote, any candidate with less than 50 percent is dropped. In 2002, six candidates were going for two spots, and it took several rounds of voting before two received more than the required percentage.
“You could accomplish the same thing by just ordering the candidates in your order of preference,” Lynch says. He recently proposed an instant runoff system to the City Council that has yet to be approved. “1-2-3-4-5, and then it would just be one vote and you could do it on a laptop computer.”
Of course, Lynch’s system would potentially make the process much easier for the average voter who already must sit through a five-minute presentation by each candidate before casting a ballot. Otherwise, very little is required to vote. You simply must sign a form pledging your allegiance to the Democratic Party and vow to not work against the candidates selected. Despite the lack of requirements, only a relatively small percentage of the city’s voters show up. “Eight-thousand Democrats will show up for the general election,” says Lynch, “only about 500 will care about who specifically the candidate is.”
While the voting system is still in its infancy, the co-chair of the Charlottesville Democratic Party’s Executive Committee is pleased with its current operation. “This is a much more straightforward system,” says Sherry Kraft. “Those meetings in the past went on for hours and hours, and were less fair for a new candidate. This levels the playing field a little bit more.”
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