Why Aurora needs a mayoral primary

Sherry Tatar // Published July 31, 2008 in The Beacon News

State law now allows cities to opt out of holding a primary election in cases where there are four or fewer candidates running. Common sense dictates that if there are more than two candidates in Aurora's nonpartisan mayoral election that a primary is both desirable and necessary.

Omitting the primary election would certainly save money, but is this fair?

Some residents might be glad about the cost savings, while others might be happy due to how they believe it would affect their candidate of choice in next spring's election. However, we must look at this change for what it is. It is a change in the way votes are counted and whether your vote will matter. This change is not about money or the effect on your candidate, it is about the future of our votes. Even though the law gives this option, we need to look ahead to what this means for all future elections.

Aurora's mayor holds an important position in city government, being both the top elected official and in charge of day-to-day operations. This is quite different from the mayor's position in a city with a hired city manager to oversee the city's ongoing business.

The Aurora Election Commission should not wait until December to make a decision based on how many candidates have filed petitions. Rather, the commission should decide once and for all that anytime there are three or more candidates for a mayoral election then a primary is necessary and will be held.

With our established system of voting, the winner of the general election must win more than 50 percent of the vote. We are assured this winner has received the true majority of the voting public. With the elimination of the primary, there is no such assurance. If there are four candidates, the winner only needs to get more than 25 percent of the votes. For a position as important as that of mayor, this does not seem right and should not be acceptable to the voters.

History has shown that a candidate who comes in second in the primary could win the general election, but this could never be the case with the elimination of the primary. With no primary, votes against an incumbent or for change would be split among various candidates, and some voters would not have the chance for their vote to be counted in the final decision.

If it is necessary to change our customary method of electing a mayor, there is a fair way to eliminate the primary election and the cost associated with it. That would be to have an instant run-off election. In this type of election, voters would rank the candidates in their order of preference. The candidate with the fewest votes would have his or her votes redistributed to each voter's next-choice candidate, and this would be done again if necessary until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the votes or has the highest number of votes when only two candidates remain. This voting system is being used in various places within and outside of the U.S.

Some arguments in favor of instant runoff voting include a reduction in cost, a reduction in negative campaigning, a reduced third-party "spoiler effect," and the likelihood of increased choices for voters. However, we are not set up to have this sort of election and there could be some opposition to this new-for-Aurora type of voting. We already have the equipment for (our current system) and know that having a primary and a general election is something that local voters find acceptable.

The instant runoff voting method is covered extensively at www.fairvote.org/irv and the site notes some Illinois legislation to allow instant runoff voting to improve the voting rights for overseas voters, including those in the military.

I urge the Aurora Election Commission to either announce its plans now to hold a primary election whenever there are more than two candidates, or to set up a system that allows instant run-off voting. Simply eliminating the primary election does not serve the best interests of local voters.