Let’s Fix Local Elections in Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s local elections are overly complicated and unfair. It’s too late to change anything before October, but after this year’s elections, our local governments should take action to fix how we elect our council, assembly, and school board members.

The problem is that our local government bodies are holding separate elections for seats with different term lengths. This procedure results in an uneven and anti-competitive playing field for candidates, as well as a reduction in choice for voters.

Consider the present state of the elections for Ketchikan City Council: As of August 10th, there are currently three candidates running for three 3-year seats on the council. Then, in a separate election, three candidates are running for one 2-year seat. Hopefully more people will run for the three 3-year seats, but if no one else files as a candidate before the August 25th deadline, we’ll be left with a terribly unfair election in which three out of four seats will be uncontested and only one seat will be left as a real choice for voters.

Even if Ketchikan always has more than enough candidates running for every open seat, (which we often do not), this system still forces people running for public office to try to make a political calculation from the beginning: Which election should they run in? Is it safer to try to run for a shorter-term seat, or will too many other candidates think the same thing? It’s a very real—and ridiculous—scenario that a candidate might win or lose their race just because of the particular seat they chose to run for.

In addition, voters may be forced to make non-ideal choices because of this arbitrary system. For example, there may be three candidates I really like who are running for City Council, but if all three of them decide to run for the 2-year seat instead of the 3-year seats, I can only vote for one of them.

As I see it, there’s a simple way to solve this problem: All open seats on a government body should be part of the same election, with any shorter-term seats going to candidates who receive fewer votes. In the City Council example, all six of the current candidates would run for all four of the available seats, and voters would get to choose their four favorites from the whole group. The candidates receiving the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd highest totals of votes should receive the three 3-year seats, while the 4th-place candidate should receive the 2-year seat.

After this October election, I strongly encourage the Ketchikan City Council, Borough Assembly, and School Board to reconsider and amend how they conduct elections. Our arbitrary insistence on holding separate elections for seats with different term lengths leads to uncompetitive situations and an unfair playing field. Ketchikan can do better.

Teacher and Academic Decathlon coach from Ketchikan, Alaska—writes about history, language, travel, and education. Lingít sh tuxhaltóow. Twitter: @peterstanton

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