We often disagree with the members of the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee, but when they’re right they’re right. And they’re right to oppose action by the Idaho Falls City Council to eliminate runoff elections in city council races.
The council hasn’t taken such action yet and may not. They have only discussed it. And many council members, especially John Radford, Shelly Smede, Jim Freeman and Jim Francis, have expressed strong reservations because doing so would overturn the expressed will of the people.
Runoffs have been in place in Idaho Falls since 2005. At that time, Mayor Linda Milam had won office twice with less-than-majority support. That’s not uncommon when a race has a crowded field to split the vote. And in a crowded race, a somewhat popular spoiler candidate can result in a winner that most voters oppose.
It’s true that hasn’t happened yet in Idaho Falls, and it appears to be quite rare in general. There have been only two runoff elections in Idaho Falls. Each resulted in the candidates who had won the largest portion of the vote in the original race winning a majority in the runoff. The only time an election result changed in a city-level runoff in Idaho appears to have been a single mayoral election in Eagle.
But that’s not to say things couldn’t be different in future elections.
The question was put to voters in 2005, and an overwhelming 68 percent said they wanted runoffs.
The most vocal opposition to eliminating the runoff has come from the Bonneville GOP, which passed a resolution criticizing the idea and read it into the record during a public comment period earlier this month.
The Bonneville GOP gave what amounts to a full-throated defense of democracy, and it was unequivocal in its demands — even including a threat to back challengers to any city council member who supports ending the runoff. Because the voters had spoken, it declared, “any proposal to eliminate the city council runoff process should be rejected, and such a proposal should not be considered by the city council at any date in the future, regardless of the cost required...”
Of course, the Bonneville GOP must realize that adopting such a principle demands consistency. So it will naturally oppose any effort to eliminate Medicaid expansion, which also passed by a large majority both statewide and in Bonneville County, “at any date in the future, regardless of the cost required.” And it will dedicate funds to defeating any local lawmaker who supports such elimination.
Anything less would be rank hypocrisy.
Our position is less unequivocal but similar. The voters of Idaho Falls have indeed spoken on runoff elections. The council should not override their voice. If the council truly believes runoffs are ill-advised, it should take the question to voters once more. It’s been more than a decade since the original referendum, so it’s reasonable to ask the question again at this point.
Informed voters could make a different choice this time. They could judge that the cost of the runoff, nearly $50,000 last year, is too high to justify a second election that rarely changes the final result. But they could also judge that cost is worth it. Either way, the choice should be theirs.
Mayor Rebecca Casper and some members of the council have noted that they believe voters in 2005 hadn’t been adequately educated about runoff elections, in part because members were advised by their lawyers not to comment on the matter. If the city chooses a second referendum, we would be happy to provide the council space on this page, as well as to outside proponents and opponents, to make their case.