Mayor Ireland to vote to repeal Instant Runoff Voting

by Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland told the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors Tuesday morning that he is going to vote “yes” on city question 2B, which if passed would repeal the city’s system of instant runoff voting, otherwise known as IRV.

Ireland has been elected mayor of Aspen twice, once under IRV in 2009, when he defeated Marilyn Marks, and once in 2007, when he defeated Tim Semrau in a June run-off after an initial vote in May.

The mayor said he now believes that the run-off system allows voters to better understand where candidates stand on issues.

And he stressed that his decision to vote to repeal IRV was not based on recent criticism of the system and the way the city conducted the election.

“I strongly disagree with the assertions that the election was mishandled, that there was a cover-up, [that] some things were done illegally [or] improperly, [that] the votes weren’t counted right, that somebody else really won ... all that stuff is bullshit, and I’m sorry to say that, but it is,” Ireland told the ACRA board, which includes a mix of business and community leaders.

Marks has been the most vocal critic of IRV. She sent a list of potential process violations allegedly made during the 2009 IRV election to the district attorney’s office, which investigated but took no action.

The Aspen Election Commission later reviewed Marks’ questions and issues, and found she had raised several valid points that mainly could be cured by better shuffling of ballots to ensure voter privacy.

Ireland told the ACRA board that he had supported IRV in the past.

“But I do think that the council candidates, unlike the mayoral candidates, simply didn’t have enough time to expound on their views so people didn’t have a good basis for making a choice,” he said.

Ireland also said the run-off method has drawbacks, too.

“Another month like the month we just had is a high price to pay for hearing more from the candidates,” Ireland said, referring to the heavy campaigning during the current election. “So it is with mixed feelings that I support repealing IRV.”

Ironically, Ireland’s position puts him on the same side of the issue as Marks, who also thinks that a June run-off system is better than IRV, especially as the IRV system in Aspen needs to determine the winner of two seats, which she said is rare.

Marks also said Tuesday she was pleased that she and Ireland now agree that IRV should be repealed.

“A new system will give us a chance to hear the most about the issues from the top candidates,” she said, noting that she never contested that Ireland had won the 2009 mayoral race.

Jim True, who is special counsel to the city of Aspen and worked closely on the IRV election, thinks IRV should be left in place.

“IRV did what it was designed to do very efficiently and very effectively,” he said.

Aspen voters approved IRV in November 2007 and it was first used in May 2009, when Ireland won the mayor’s seat, and Derek Johnson and Torre were elected to council.

The IRV system replaced a run-off system that had been in place since 2001.

The run-off method sought to ensure that a mayor was elected with at least 50 percent, plus one, of the vote and that council candidates got at least 45 percent, plus one, of the vote. If Referendum 2B is approved, those same rules will apply.

Some residents disliked the “Groundhog Day” aspect to run-offs between top vote-getters, especially as the winning candidates in each of three June run-off elections had also won the most votes in the original election in May.

Before 2001, city elections were based on a simple plurality — who ever got the most votes for mayor, got the job. And the two most popular council candidates, no matter how slim their percentage of votes, were duly seated.

bgs@aspendailynews.com