On Election Day 2017, Hoboken saw 6 candidates running for mayor and 14 running for City Council to fill 3 seats -- a political circus that confused and frustrated many voters. In response to residents concerns, an overwhelming majority (7-2) of the City Council approved a ballot referendum which would allow our community to collectively decide whether or not to re-institute runoff elections. Mayor Bhalla vetoed the ordinance, spreading half-truths and politicizing the issue, but the Council responded by overriding him (7-2) to let the people decide (click here to read the NJ.com article).
This issue will now be voted on by the people, this election day - November 6, 2019 - not decided by establishment politicians like Mayor Bhalla who benefit from a flawed current system.
Without runoff elections, true independent candidates face an uphill battle and a nearly impossible task to run for office without institutional support as crowded races favor the person who can raise the most money, the incumbent. That wasn’t always the case though. In 2007, Dawn Zimmer lost her election to City Council in a four-way race to a long-time incumbent, but won head-to-head in a runoff. Without a runoff, Dawn Zimmer would never have sat on the City Council...she would have lost in the winner-take-all scenario we have today. A similar outcome also just occurred in the 2017 Jersey City's Ward E runoff where the candidate backed by the establishment won in the general election, but lost to an upstart in the runoff. So, in blocking runoffs, Mayor Bhalla is essentially limiting the viability for independents to run for political office in favor of himself and candidates that he supports.
Reinstating runoffs allows local candidates a chance to make their case on municipal issues without having them distracted by the polarizing partisan politics found at the state and national levels. I believe that we need to continue to challenge the status quo to ensure that new energy and new ideas are encouraged and elevated by Hoboken's electoral process, not thwarted by establishment politicians.
Keep in mind, Mayor Bhalla was not supported by 67% of voters, earning less than 1/3 of votes and seeing runoffs would return majority rule, and his opposition to runoffs calls into question his ability to actually win a majority vote. It is further disappointing to see Mayor Bhalla not just deny Hoboken residents the opportunity to have their voices heard in a public referendum on our voting rights, but to also see him spread misinformation and half-truths while doing so.
The Mayor cites reduced voter turnout in a recent Jersey City runoff where the mayoral candidate wasn't even in the runoff and fails to mention that the last time Hoboken held a runoff election for Mayor in 2009 turnout actually increased from the general election. Meanwhile, he suggests that he supports an instant runoff system that, while certainly worth exploring, is not currently allowable by state law and even if permitted, likely won't roll out before the next mayoral election. The mayor references “massive vote-buying” which although has significantly decreased over the years, is still sadly an issue but not unique to runoffs. Perhaps our mayor’s energies are best spent suppressing the referenced vote buying, not stopping the people’s right to decide whether or not they want a runoff election. Think about it, should we blame the voting process for Russian meddling, or should we aim to end Russian meddling?
Sadly, all of this is meant to distract from the fact that Mayor Bhalla is concerned that re-instituting runoff elections would hurt his chances of re-election as he has not demonstrated the ability to secure majority support or to work collaboratively with his fellow elected officials. This is a deeply cynical ploy that puts politics over our city's values of transparency and openness.
The question as to how our elections are run is now with you!
FACTS On Runoff Elections
- VOTER TURNOUT HAS HISTORICALLY INCREASED FROM A MUNICIPAL TO A RUNOFF ELECTION. The last time Hoboken held a runoff election for mayor in 2009 turnout actually increased from the general election. Mayor Bhalla's claim that voter turnout is reduced is not based in any recent fact and completely opposite of what we have historically seen in Hoboken (reference chart of comparable elections is included below). Further, using voter turnout from Jersey City's 2017 December runoff to show reduced turnout is not an acceptable baseline for making that argument. In that particular election, Jersey City's Mayor Fullop won on the first ballot with 77 percent of the vote, so his name, as well as the name of 5 of 9 City Council candidates who also won on first ballot, were not on the December runoff ballot. As such, it's logical to see how voter turnout increased when there weren't as many races left to decide. Now, had the most recent Hoboken mayoral election been boiled from six candidates to two in a December runoff, our own recent electoral history shows that at least the same number of voters would return to the poll to decide the direction of Hoboken for the next four years. It's just that important to our community..
- INSTANT RUNOFF / RANKED CHOICE VOTING IS NOT PERMITTED BY LAW AND WONT BE FOR OUR NEXT ELECTION. In January, the Hoboken City Council unanimously approved a resolution urging the state legislature to consider passing law to allow municipalities to adopt instant runoff elections. If and when the state does permit ranked choice voting, Hudson County would still need to source new software and voting machines, implement new voting processes and policies, train election workers and educate voters on the new voting system. Even supposing that instant runoffs were approved by the state legislature this year, they would not be fully implemented in time for our next Council election in 2019 and very unlikely ready for the mayoral election in 2021.
- ILLEGAL VOTES ARE MORE OF A PROBLEM IN A CROWDED GENERAL ELECTION THAN IN A RUNOFF. All elections are sadly targets for vote buying and an election could be swayed if there is either a) high turnout with multiple candidates dividing the vote, or b) low turnout. In the first example, if we use the 2017 mayoral race, where the field of 15,000 voters was split amongst 6 mayoral candidates and, for arguments sake, take Mayor Bhalla's totally unsubstantiated figure that 1,000 votes were bought. In this hypothetical situation, if the election went to a runoff, so long as total turnout in that runoff is greater than 5,000 the impact of paid for votes in a citywide runoff would be less having two candidates vying for the majority. Likewise, for the second scenario let's use a lower turnout City Council ward race, where the electorate is significantly smaller and hypothesize say there are four candidates vying for one council seat (as was the case in Dawn Zimmer's 2007 council race). In this instance, lacking a runoff, somebody could win with just a few hundred votes, making paid for votes a serious impediment to honest elections. In either of the two instances, having runoffs require a higher percentage of the overall electorate which greatly minimizes the ability for someone to buy an election.
- THE COST OF A RUNOFF IS NOT $140k. Mayor Bhalla has suggested the incremental cost of the runoff to be 140k, without explaining where this number came from. Looking back, it appears to reflect the number that was used in 2012 for the savings relating to moving our municipal elections from May to November and eliminating the runoffs. The City Clerk has estimated that a runoff election would cost the City around $10,000.