Runoff only works if voters get involved

Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2005

Runoff elections make a lot of sense — but only when the voters show up to the polls in force.

Because of a requirement that the winner in a Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral election receive at least 50 percent of the vote, borough voters on Oct. 25 will go to the polls for the second time in less than a month. They'll be tasked with selecting between two fine candidates, John Torgerson and John Williams.

Both of these candidates have a long history of public service and borough residents are lucky to have two highly qualified candidates to choose from.

Torgerson garnered the most support during the general election but failed to receive more than the required 50 percent of the total vote, forcing next week's special election. Although his early popular support bodes well for his candidacy, it doesn't take a long memory to remember that a first-place finish in the first election isn't any guarantee of a win in the runoff.

In 1999, incumbent mayor Mike Navarre was unseated by challenger Dale Bagley in a second election after receiving the most votes during the first go-around. Had the runoff provision not been in place, Bagley would not have gone on to serve as mayor for six years.

Critics of runoffs note that voters rarely return to the polls for a second election with the same enthusiasm that they do for the regular election.

The only way to counter this criticism is for voters to show up in force Oct. 25.

When voter turnout for a special runoff election is low, it lends credence to the idea that the wrong candidate somehow "stole" the election by energizing a certain segment of the voters. If only a small percentage of hard-core supporters bother to show up and vote — the idea goes — the most radical factions, and not always the majority, of borough residents have the chance to rule the day.

This idea is nonsense, but a small turnout nonetheless allows this notion to survive.

Whichever candidate is elected mayor should have a clear and decisive election win to back their win. It's imperative that voters show up in force in order to send a clear signal that the winner is truly the person voters want to represent them in office for the next three years.

Democracy only works when people are behind it. If voters are apathetic and fail to show up in strong numbers, a vocal minority has a chance to impart an undue influence on the result of an election. Worse, low turnout gives those in the losing camp a convenient excuse to fall back on — a situation that lends itself to charges that the winning candidate is not truly the voice of the people.

Don't let this happen. Treat the runoff election with as much respect — or more — as a general one. A strong turnout will send the message that whichever candidate is chosen is truly the candidate Kenai Peninsula residents want to serve as their mayor.

Come Tuesday, Oct. 25, borough residents must speak with a voice that's not only loud, but one that's clear as well.

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