This Election Day Hoboken voters have a question to vote on that could shape our city’s future -- whether we should use runoff elections if a candidate for Mayor or City Council doesn’t win a majority of votes. The answer is, YES! Runoffs are used in most every similar NJ municipality and require a candidate to earn 50% of the vote to win office. Hoboken doesn't though, and as a result are the only city in the state that has a Mayor elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. You might recall last year's crowded and confusing mayoral race, where we had six people running with 68 percent of residents voting against the candidate who won.
It’s not really democracy if your vote doesn’t count.
Establishment politicians and special interests know this and use this broken system to divide our community and then pander to those smaller voting blocks, and win. Runoff elections would require candidates to create broader platforms and once elected, broader policies, which benefit the most number of residents as possible, not just the select few who elected them. Your support on this question would mean every vote counts -- making it harder for candidates to intentionally divide the community for political gain in future elections.
The question will be at the bottom of the ballot and I really hope you will support and spread the word to see fair elections in Hoboken!
Why Runoffs are Important?
Just last November, Hoboken had 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).
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, which is usually 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 Downtown 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 trying to block 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 68% of voters, earning less than 1/3 of votes. 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 spreading misinformation and half-truths to make his point.
The Mayor has cited reduced voter turnout in the last 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 own 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! Vote Yes On Local Question #1 To Bring Back Runoffs.
FAQ ON RUNOFF ELECTIONS
RUNOFF ELECTIONS CAN CHANGE THE FINAL OUTCOME…AND FAVOR INDEPENDENTS
Some have contested that there is no change in the outcome of an election, however the election of Dawn Zimmer to Council upends that. In 2007 Zimmer ran in a four-way race, and came in second in the general but won the runoff. Just this year, James Solomon in Jersey City’s Ward E came in second in the 5-way Council race, and won the runoff. The same occurred with Reed Gusciora in Trenton, who ran in a 6-way Mayoral race, coming in second in the general but winning the runoff. When fractured voters have to decide between two candidates, the majority of total voters has been known to shift the course of an election. That’s democracy!
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 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 (take a look at the reference chart)
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, Steve Fulop, won on the first ballot with 77 percent of the vote, as did 5 of 9 Council candidates and none of their names were on the runoff ballot. As such, it's logical to see how overall voter turnout decreased proportionally when there weren't as many races left to decide.
THE COST OF A RUNOFF IS NOT $140k
It has been suggested by some that the additional cost of the runoff is $140,000, without explanation of 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. For the ten positions (1 mayor and 9 council members) that oversee a $117,000,000 budget, don’t you want to make sure you elect the right people?
IF A RUNOFF IS NEEDED, IT WOULD BE IN DECEMBER, BUT NOT DURING THE “HOLIDAY SEASON”.
Pursuant with NJ State law, if a runoff is needed, “the run-off election shall be held at a special election on the subsequent Tuesday next after the first Monday in December”. Also keep in mind, if a candidate earns over 50 percent of the vote on Election Day, no runoff would be required.
INSTANT RUNOFF / RANKED CHOICE VOTING IS NOT PERMITTED BY LAW AND WONT BE FOR OUR NEXT ELECTION.
Last 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 or 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, but runoffs make it harder for the illegal practice to be successful. In a runoff it would require thousands of bought votes, in two elections. In a crowded general, it would perhaps require only a few hundred, once. The smaller voting blocks that multiple-candidate general elections create make vote buying far more possible while runoffs dilute that.