There are problems with December runoffs, but, despite what the blogs say, increasing voter fraud isn’t one of them. 1,000 bought and paid for votes don’t matter less in November when you need 4,000 votes to win, than they do in December, when you need 7,000 to win. Nonetheless, I don’t like runoff elections in December, which is always too busy. It’s hard on voters and even harder on the people who volunteer on campaigns. And fewer volunteers from Hoboken just increases the impact of money and support from outside Hoboken.
But switching from May to November elections the way we did had a disastrous unintended consequence. Eliminating the runoff entirely strongly incentivized toxic campaigns. Much like the broken Electoral College system nationally, Hoboken’s broken electoral system now rewards targeting a divisive message at a narrow support base of 30-35 percent. With a runoff, this strategy is a losing one, as no supporter of an eliminated candidate would turn to the campaign who’d falsely smeared their first choice. The need to win a majority of the popular vote keeps campaigns focused on serving most, and ideally all, of the electorate. Electing a president with less than half the vote is ripping our country apart. Electing a mayor with less than a third of the vote threatens to do the same to our city.
I wish we could go back to the May election and June runoff. But the state legislature in its infinite wisdom has made that impossible until we’ve suffered for ten years under this terrible system that we chose. So what do we do until then? Just live with what we’ve got? After what we lived through last November almost anything would be better – even a December runoff. We can’t go back to where we were. The consequences of staying where we are played out vividly in the damage they did to Hoboken’s political civility. We have no choice but to move forward.
If it were our only option I would still consider a runoff in December a bad choice but I would probably conclude it the best bad choice available. But it’s not the only option. We have another choice – Instant Runoff – that would show the kind of leadership Hoboken should strive to be known for. Hoboken’s city council has all stated their support for the idea. Some would wait on the legislature. But after years of inaction in Trenton that seems an unlikely hope. This council has voted to give the voters the chance to restore majority rule. Great. Now they should show leadership and schedule a referendum letting Hoboken voters demand Instant Runoff.
Hoboken is famous for having the first girl play little league, the first woman elected mayor in Hudson County and the first Sikh mayor to be elected in the state of New Jersey. We can do this too.
We might not be successful right away. It might take years. But let us begin.