Ashland council proposes tiered voting to fill vacancies

The seal of the city of Ashland on the wall in the Council Chamber on East Main Street. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
February 24, 2023

Expected to confirm plan, take at least initial votes on applicants at March 7 meeting

By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news

The Ashland City Council is pursuing a tiered voting method to fill two vacant council seats after struggling to narrow down a pool of 19 applicants.

During a special meeting the evening of Feb. 22, the council was in support of a two-step system proposed by Councilor Bob Kaplan that would begin with a traditional vote then a ranked-choice vote if the initial election did not produce majority winners.

City Manager Joe Lessard said his staff would prepare a written draft of the proposed voting procedure to ensure the process was clear, and present it for council approval during the March 7 meeting.

Two seats were vacated by former Councilor Shaun Moran, who resigned Jan. 24, and former Councilor Tonya Graham, who was appointed mayor Feb. 7 following the Jan. 27 resignation of former Mayor Julie Akins. The City Charter gives the council broad discretion for how to fill vacancies and only mandates that the seats be filled within 60 days from when they were vacated.

Councilor Position No. 2 must be filled by March 24, while Position No. 3 must be filled by April 8.

Both positions will be up for reelection in November 2024. Position No. 2 will be for a two-year-term (the remainder of would have been Graham’s second council term) and Position No. 3 will be for a full four-year term (succeeding what would have been Moran’s seat).

Ashland City Councilor Robert “Bob” Kaplan discusses ranked choice voting at the Feb. 22 council meeting. Screen capture from RVTV video stream

The council initially expected to make appointments by Feb. 22, but after receiving 19 applications from a diverse array of residents they were not confident they could reach a consensus on two individuals that night. In anticipation of this challenge, Kaplan suggested the two-phase voting system as a streamlined alternative.

“I put my thoughts to trying to imagine getting down from 19 really great candidates to two, and doing it in a way that was going to be fair … and then manageable in a short space of time in a single meeting,” said Kaplan.

He proposed an initial round of voting where each of the four current council members would vote for any two of the 19 applicants. If two candidates received a majority of votes, the process would conclude and the council would move forward with appointments.

If only one candidate — or no candidate — received a majority of votes, they would move to a second round using only the candidates who received votes during the first phase. At most, only eight candidates would be in this second pool. 

The second round would then use ranked-choice voting, where the council would vote for multiple candidates for one vacancy, ranking their preferences. In the event of a tie or lack of a majority, the ranked preferences would determine a winner.

Ranked choice voting is becoming popular in the U.S. amid frustrations over election efficiency and integrity. Proponents argue the system improves the odds of non-partisan candidates and prevents the need for costly and often-divisive runoffs.

Kaplan said ranked-choice voting has a small likelihood of still resulting in a tie. Lessard said, in that event, the council could cast lots such as flipping a coin to break the tie.

Councilor Paula Hyatt said she felt confident in the objectivity of the system proposed by Kaplan.

“It feels very mathematically sound to me, and understanding that it’s challenging to go from 19 and narrow a pool,” she said. “This feels very scientific, very mathematical and I genuinely thank you for putting it forward for consideration. I am perfectly comfortable working within this paradigm.”

Councilor Eric Hansen said he also appreciated Kaplan’s efforts and his explanation of the system to the council.

“I appreciate you going through this exercise,” said Hansen.

Mayor Graham said she was grateful to have a process for moving forward.

“Thank you for taking the initiative to get something for us to start with,” she told Kaplan. “It was super helpful.”

Email Ashland.news reporter Stephen Floyd at sfloydmedia@gmail.com.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.


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