April 16, 2010

Commission moves to separate two mayoral questions on ballot

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - More than a few members of the city's Charter Commission say the most important question on November's ballot -- having a popularly elected mayor -- should not be combined with a companion question because it could confuse voters.

In what turned out to be one of the Charter Commission's most addled meetings, commissioners in attendance voted 5-4 to separate the question of creating the position of an elected mayor from the question of whether to have ranked-choice voting to elect the mayor.

The vote as not binding as Charter Commission rules mandate that a minimum of seven affirmative votes are needed for a vote to be final.

Three commissioners were unable to attend Thursday's meeting, which caused votes on several other issues to be nullified because they lacked seven affirmative votes.

Chairwoman Pamela Plumb said the issue of combining an elected mayor with ranked-choice voting will be considered again when more commissioners are present.

Commissioner James Cohen said if a voter supports an elected mayor position but does not support ranked choice voting, "their vote will likely be a no" if the two issues were merged.

"In order to give the city the greatest chance to change history, we need to keep the two questions separate," Cohen said.

Most Charter Commission members support a popularly elected mayor, but they also want the mayor be elected with a new method of voting.

In a ranked-choice system voters get to vote for their top candidate as well as several backup choices.

If a the top vote getter does not gain a clear majority (at least 50 percent of the votes cast), the votes are recounted -- with the lowest vote getter eliminated each round -- until a candidate with a clear majority emerges.

"I believe these issues are inextricably tied together. If it's not done by ranked-choice voting, I'm not sure I want to have an elected mayor," said Commissioner Anna Trevorrow. "I don't think the issues are as complicated as we make them out to be."

Commissioners Benjamin Chipman and Laurie Davis also argued on behalf of combining the questions.

"Having them combined strengthens the elected mayor proposal," Chipman said.

Plumb, who supports keeping the questions separate, said the issue will be reconsidered next Thursday or April 29.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on passage of proposed charter changes at their May 13 meeting, with a public hearing on their preliminary report set to be held on June 10.


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:



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