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Loser wins in three-way race 

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It’s likely that the least-popular candidate will win in Silver City’s District 3 council race. But before we get to why, here’s how I came to understand how little I understand local elections.


About 45 years ago, I was a reporter covering an election in a town smaller than Silver City. The candidates were a woman who worked for a social service agency and knew a lot about the issues; and the local UPS driver who was known and liked by everyone, although he had no political qualifications. After interviewing both, I was sure the qualified candidate would win in a landslide.


You are probably way ahead of me. If you guessed correctly that the UPS driver won in a landslide, you know better than me who will win District 3. Will it be incumbent Jose Ray, real estate entrepreneur Wendy Raven Phillips or former town employee Stan Snider?


I don’t live in the district and have no vote, and this column doesn’t make endorsements, which I leave to the Daily Press editorial page. As I remember from journalism school in the ’70s, voters tend to ignore newspaper endorsements anyway. Neighbor-to-neighbor conversations have more influence.


Yard signs are good and statements at forums are fine, but knocking on doors is better. Who talks the best, but also who listens the best? And in this race voters get to compare ponytails and mustaches.
Instead of analyzing specific candidates, I’m going to make up imaginary ABC candidates with characteristics so mixed up that you can’t correlate them with the real candidates.


Imagine that Alvarez, the incumbent, is so unpopular that most voters will vote against her. Everyone loves her or hates her. She has a voting record that has made friends and enemies. Of course, nobody in Silver City would vote based on ethnicity, gender or class, but she likes to point out that she is the only Hispanic woman from a poor background.


Bryant has a record in business, but not in a business that everyone appreciates. His success has made him a few enemies. He’s known on the Chamber of Commerce, but unknown to many people who see themselves as business victims rather than business owners.


Cooke is in a business that few people see. She has fewer enemies, but also fewer friends. She is trying to increase name recognition by knocking on every door in the district.


There are a few wildcards in the race. One of the candidates is rumored to be a supporter of Donald Trump, which will hurt and help. Also, some voters are talking conspiracy, such as the completely untrue claim that one candidate is an illegal Muslim from Texas.


Another factor is that many voters have a primary goal of defeating Alvarez. They will vote for the candidate most likely to beat her, but they aren’t sure which one that is. Other voters want to beat Bryant, and they have a similar problem. Nobody dislikes Cooke enough to vote specifically against her. When the smoke clears on election day, Alvarez gets 36 percent, Bryant gets 33 percent and Cooke gets 31 percent. It sounds like a clear win for Alvarez, but it isn’t.


If this were a partisan race, voters would know that Bryant and Cooke are Democrats. Only one of them would win the primary and advance to the general election. Since Silver City has more Democrats, either Democrat would beat Republican Alvarez.


We could (but we won’t) do a similar exercise to guess who would win with an electoral college, as in our presidential elections.


Actually, this is a nonpartisan plurality election where the person with the most votes wins, even without a majority. Imagine we lived in a civilized country or state where you’d need a majority to win. Georgia and Louisiana have runoff elections between the top two if no candidate gets a majority. If we had that, Bryant would get most of Cooke’s votes and win in the runoff.


Another majority winner system is the ranked choice system used in Maine. You vote for all the candidates you find acceptable, ranking each in order of preference. This allows you to vote first for your favorite instead of voting strategically. In our imaginary election, Alvarez would get few second-place votes. There are also voters who like Bryant least. Cooke would get fewer first place votes, but the most overall. She wins because she is acceptable to the most voters.


And that goes back to what I said in the first sentence. It’s likely that the least popular candidate will win. Three-way nonpartisan elections are an undemocratic mess.


No matter who wins, the new council should work toward a majority election system.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to bruce@greensilverlinings.com.
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