City Council: Partisan? At-Large? Consensus
In preparation for the next City Charter review in 1981,
the League of Women Voters City Council Study Group has addressed itself to four questions which may be considered by the next Charter Review Commission. The Study Group has prepared arguments on these four questions for consideration by League membership at their Unit meetings. Members of the Study Group will present the topics for discussion at the January and February meetings. Ample time will be given for a question and answer period. This study will lead to a consensus no later than
This study will reevaluate League positions regarding the City Council.
The two areas of interest to be considered at the February Unit meetings are:
(3) Should Council elections be partisan or non-partisan?
(4) Should Council members be elected from both single and at-large districts?
TOPIC THREE: COUNCIL REPRESENTATION: PARTISAN OR NONPARTISAN
Presently over 60% of U. S. cities over 5,00j population use a nonpartisan. ballot and this trend is growing. Most people who favor it think city government is a matter of efficient business administration and that state and national politics have nothing in common with local politics.
- The strength of our form of government relies on the two-party system. The strength of state and national political parties depends on a strong local organization. To weaken local political organizations would be to weaken the two-party system at higher levels.
- Government today functions at many levels at once, especially in areas such as public health, welfare, housing, highways, etc. Political affiliation on the local level may serve as a bridge between the different levels of government.
- Party labels have been proven in studies to be the most useful aid to the voter. If the voter is denied this aid, he will be more influenced by PR type influences, e.g. attractive appearance, ethnic background, lifestyle, etc. The influence of union recommendations, and those from newspaper editorials will be increased.
- Nonpartisan elections may work well enough in small localities where a personal style of politics is possible, but does not work satisfactorily in large areas. With no party label to guide him, the voter is too confused and so is very likely to vote for the candidate with the biggest "name." The election, therefore, becomes a media battle between personalities and platforms assume far less importance. It is also easier for minority party candidates to survive the primary and get on the final ballot.
- It is easier to cast a protest vote with partisan labels.
- Voters are used to the partisan primary system of selecting candidates and would be confused by any radical change.
- In many cases, local issues may be unrelated to state or national party concerns. Local government concerns itself with the practical aspects of operating a city. It is frequently the case that dedicated members of a political party in state and national elections may vote independently in local elections. This is especially true if city and other elections are held at different times.
- Political affiliations have historically not proven too effective as a bridge, i.e., Fasi/Ariyoshi. Many nonpartisan-elected officials cooperate very successfully with partisan state and national officials, and conversely, people belonging to the same party may disagree.
- If party labels are eliminated, voters are more apt to learn about the candidates' records, views, etc.
- Nonpartisan elections give an opportunity for members of the minority party to be successful in local elections where such a party affiliation could be considered a handicap.
- In Hawaii we are going to change from a closed primary to one in which voters will not have to reveal their party preference, though they will still be able to vote in only one party's primary. It would be easy to incorporate an identical list of council hopefuls onto each ballot. In some states, e.g. California, if any candidate receives a majority of the vote cast, the candidate is declared elected and saves the cost of running in the general election and the taxpayer the cost of placing that name on the final ballot.
Most serious objection to partisan elections for local offices is that most localities do not have two strong parties. It is rare to find a city with a working two-party system. This makes real responsibility to the electorate very problematic. Qualified and capable individuals who belong to the weaker party have very little chance to be elected.
TOPIC FOUR: COUNCIL REPRESENTATION: DISTRICT--AT-LARGE--COMBINATION
Over 50% of the cities of more than 5,000 population elect their council members at-large. In cities of 250,000 to 500,000, 70% elect at-large, 10% by district, and 20% by combination of district and at-large. The Model City Charter of the National Municipal League recommends the council members be elected at-large.
In 1972, Honolulu's Charter Commission presented to the electorate two options relative to the composition of the council: a 9-member council all elected by district or 5 elected by district and 4 elected at-large. The LWV at that time supported the latter because it was felt that the mix included the best of both district and at-large representation. The voters chose all-district representation, and in 1974 we elected 9 members from 9 districts.
The 1981 Charter Commission will be reviewing council representation. These are the pros and cons of the three methods.
AT LARGE: PRO
- All council members have the same constituency--the whole island--and will therefore have an island-wide view.
- Some districts may not have qualified candidates while others may have several. At-large representation will attract well-qualified candidates from the whole island, regardless of where they live.
- Citizens would have the right to vote for every council member instead of just one and can appeal to or influence 9 instead of one.
- Vote trading and pork barreling would be eliminated.
AT LARGE: CON
- Costs are high for island-wide campaigns. Often the influential, well-known or privately wealthy will win over less well-known or less financially able candidates.
- Power blocs--economic, ethnic, or political--tend to have a larger voice in at-large elections.
- The heterogeneous character of the island's population may not be as well represented. Since the bulk of our population is urban, rural interests may be neglected.
- There may be increased alienation of the public because the people are less familiar with their council members. One or two prominent members would receive an overwhelming number of citizen appeals and the others would have less to do. It is unfair to the council members and a disadvantage to the citizens.
- Campaign costs are lower so minority or new candidates have a better chance and the voters would have a greater choice. The voters are also more likely to know the district candidates and can therefore make more intelligent choices.
- City government is more accessible because the member is closer to his or her constituents and vice versa.
- There is more accountability. The council members are directly responsible to their own districts.
- We are assured representatives from all the areas of the island.
- The voter's influence is limited to one council member. If there is disagreement with that member, the voter has no one else to appeal to.
- Island-wide interests will be poorly represented. Single district council members may take a narrow view of major public issues since they're accountable only to their constituents.
- Encourages trading votes with members from other districts for power or pork barreling.
- The citizens may not have the best representatives. A less qualified candidate may win just because there is no one else in that district to oppose him or her.
DISTRICT--AT-LARGE COMBINATION: PRO
- District, as well as island-wide interests, will be represented.
- Voters have the opportunity to influence a majority of the Council.
- Encourages better qualified candidates regardless of where he or she lives while still ensuring that all areas of the island are represented.
DISTRICT--AT-LARGE COMBINATION: CON
- Cost of the island-wide campaign raises a question: Will the at-large candidates represent island-wide interests or special interests who can financially support their campaigns?
- Urban Honolulu may be more heavily represented to the detriment of rural and suburban areas.
- The council members elected at-large may consider themselves more important than the district representatives.
Detach and bring to Feb. Units