It’s not just Houston. Dallas, we also have a problem, specifically with the nine-way mayoral contest that has led to a runoff.
Not only does the runoff mean an extra month-plus election season - forcing candidates to shell out more cash and voters to endure a prolonged campaign cycle - but the second election means double the cost and risks even lower turnout than the paltry 10 percent who showed up to the original May 4 contest.
All this for a choice, at least in the mayoral runoff, between two candidates who earned less than 40 percent of the vote between them, meaning that 60 percent of voters didn’t choose either.
That’s not to say that either of the Top Two candidates was the ‘wrong’ choice, but rather, that such slim margins of victory cast doubt over the results and flies in the face of majority rule. It may not be a spacecraft explosion, but it’s hardly a case of the people’s will being upheld, nor does it instill much confidence in the winner - whoever that may be - and his mandate to govern.
Even before the election, advocates recognized the possibility of such problematic outcomes- all but inevitable given the nine-candidate field with no clear frontrunner.
As Tim Rogers predicted in an op-ed for Dallas Magazine,
“Basically, any of the candidates could make the runoff. They simply don’t need that many votes, and the votes will be spread fairly evenly (probably more evenly than in 2007). A few percentage points will likely separate the losers from the two runoff-ers.”
As Rogers suggested, ranked choice voting offers an effective alternative, protecting majority rule while eliminating the often high-cost, low-turnout runoff in favor of a single ‘instant’ runoff. Not only would the winner earn strong and broad support, but voters would feel empowered by knowing their votes truly counted.
While such reform necessitates a state law changing the constitution, the benefits, not only for Dallas but Houston and a number of other cities, would prove well worth the effort.