A Tulsa city councilor who is chairing the new Election Reform Task Force said he is looking for input from anyone with concerns about how municipal elections are conducted and suggestions about how they might be improved.
District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum mailed a letter on Jan. 7 to candidates who filed to run in last fall's municipal elections seeking their input.
"I sent that letter out because I have a few areas I'm interested in, but I certainly don't want it to be all about me," Bynum said. "I wanted to collect ideas from people who have participated in the process and know first-hand what its shortcomings are."
In his letter, Bynum asked the recent candidates to forward their concerns or suggestions to him by Friday, Feb. 5.
"While there are several topics I would personally like to address, I strongly believe that this task force will be most effective when everyone--from all political parties and perspectives--have an opportunity to weigh in," Bynum stated in his letter. "As a recent candidate for a municipal post, you have perhaps the greatest insight into our recent election cycle, and the best perspective for offering constructive criticism and potential solutions on how our elected officials are chosen."
The task force was created by the council in December, and all nine councilors are members. But Bynum said he welcomes input from all directions.
As of last week, Bynum said he had received only two responses to his query, and neither of those individuals offered any suggestions.
But Bynum, a Republican who defeated Democrat Roger Lowry in November to earn his second term on the council, has one or two issues of his own he would like the task force to consider.
The first of those, he said, is whether Tulsa should have runoff elections. Currently, the city makes no provision for those.
Bynum is concerned that, especially in a crowded primary field, a candidate who does not claim a majority of votes can emerge victorious and move on to the general election. And he fears with a growing number of registered independents, the same is rapidly becoming true of general elections.
But he acknowledged that adding another layer of elections might not be a simple process.
"There are some costs that come along with runoff elections," he said, alluding to an issue that almost certainly would raise concerns with the city already struggling to meet its financial obligations.
Bynum also wants to examine how the current system addresses independent candidates.
"I think our system we've got in place still treats them the same way we did 30 years ago," he said. "But we have a whole lot more independent candidates now."
Under the current system, any candidate who files as an independent and secures enough petition signatures can get his or her name placed on the general election ballot without surviving a primary battle. Bynum is concerned that might provide them with an advantage over major-party candidates who usually don't experience that situation.
Bynum wants to explore the idea of whether third-party candidates should be grouped together in a primary of their own--a system he said other cities have adopted.
He's particularly concerned about the impact the current system has on mayoral campaigns. Independent candidate Mark Perkins captured 18 percent of the vote in the November mayoral election, finishing third behind Republican Dewey Bartlett Jr. at 45 percent and Democrat Tom Adelson at 36 percent.
Another independent candidate got 1 percent of the vote.
"To me, that's an issue, and it's something we've got to look at," Bynum said.
Perkins made the issue of nonpartisan elections an issue during that campaign, and Bynum said he would be willing to explore that topic on the task force. He said he had sent a letter to Perkins asking him to participate in the process.
"I myself am not a supporter of nonpartisan elections, but I still think we need to study the issue," he said.
Bynum said he is hoping to have an agenda set for the task force by the middle of February, with meetings to begin shortly thereafter. He said he had no idea how long the process might go on.
"The length depends on how many ideas we have," he said.
Any recommendations made by the task force would be passed along to the council for its consideration, he said. If the council supports any changes to the current system, they would be put before the public in the form of city charter amendments and put on the ballot in the next municipal election, scheduled for November 2011, Bynum said.
Although task force membership is restricted to council members, Bynum said he encourages citizens with concerns about the current system to attend the meetings and offer their input.
"The election system we have doesn't belong to the City Council or the municipal government," he said. "It's the citizens'."
Share this article: