Instant replay? Activist group seeking second chance at placing advisory questions on ballot

Mike Monson // Published June 1, 2008 in The News Gazette
URBANA – An Urbana group is seeking a special meeting of the Cunningham Town Board to consider putting two proposed advisory questions on the Nov. 4 ballot. And Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she's less than pleased about it.

Durl Kruse said the group, calling itself Urbana Citizens for Instant Runoff Voting, submitted petitions signed by 28 voters last Friday to Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark. He said state law provides that a special township meeting must be held whenever at least 15 voters file a written statement requesting such a meeting as "necessary for the interests of the township."

The group wants to place two advisory questions on the Nov. 4 ballot, including:

– if the city council should place a binding question on the ballot asking voters if they want to change the voting method used in city primary and general elections to instant-runoff voting; and

– if the city and township should post all contracts and itemized expenses on their Web sites so that taxpayers can see how their money is being spent.

"Hopefully we'll have a nice discussion," Kruse said. "They're local issues and important public policy questions. I'm not sure why anyone would oppose them."

It would take a majority of the "electors" – Cunningham Township residents who are registered voters – at the meeting to put one or both of the questions on the ballot. The meeting has not been scheduled.

State law provides that a meeting must be held 14 to 45 days after the petition for a special meeting is submitted.

Cunningham Town Supervisor Carol Elliott said this is the first time she can recall a special meeting being requested for such a purpose. In recent years, however, residents have attended the annual town meetings in Cunningham and City of Champaign townships and voting to place advisory questions on the ballot. Questions on previous ballots have included if the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq and if President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached.

Democratic party regulars packed the April 8 meeting in Cunningham Township and voted down efforts by local activists to place three advisory questions on the ballot, including ones about instant-runoff voting and financial transparency.

Prussing expressed dismay that the ballot questions might have to be considered again after they were just voted down.

"Why doesn't (Kruse) just go out and do his work?" she asked, referring to obtaining petition signatures from 10 percent of Urbana's registered voters, or about 2,000 signatures. That would be enough to put a binding question about instant-runoff voting on the ballot.

"He wants somebody else to do his work for him," Prussing said. "At some point, it becomes repetitious. Why do we have to keep voting on it over and over again?"

The mayor said the city will look into the issue and determine what it must do legally. The city council also functions as the Cunningham Town Board.

Kruse said a number of local activists were dismayed by local Democrats' efforts to keep the questions off the ballot. A strong show of support in an advisory referendum might be enough to persuade city council members to put the issue on the ballot as a binding question.

With instant-runoff voting, voters are allowed to rank their preferences among candidates. Once the vote is counted, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, an electronic runoff begins. The candidate with the fewest votes is then eliminated and the second choice on those ballots is then counted. The process continues until one of the candidates receives at least 50 percent of the vote.

Instant-runoff voting makes elections "more positive and issue-oriented," Kruse said. "People need a broad base to get elected."