Petition going around PA to change election process

Published 5:02 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2016


If a petition circulating around Port Arthur is successful there could be changes in the way the city’s two at-large city council positions are elected.

District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis is spearheading an effort for the Position 7 and 8 council seats to be elected by a plurality vote rather than majority vote.

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If successful, the city’s charter would go before voters be amended. The change would allow a candidate to be elected by receiving the most votes among those seeking office. Currently, a candidate must receive at least 51 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election between the top two vote getters.

In 1983 the city’s charter was changed to elect by plurality in an effort to afford minorities a better chance of getting elected, Lewis said.

That method was changed in 2008 and returned to a majority vote.

Making the change back to plurality would save the city money from costly special runoff elections, Lewis said.

“From 198 to 2008 taxpayers did not have to pay for runoffs, but once majority vote was brought back in 2009, more than $260,000 has been spent on runoffs,” Lewis said.

Typically, a city election costs between $70,000 and $80,000. An election is cheaper if it is held in conjunction with county elections because the county administers the process.

Port Arthur’s single-member districts seldom draw more than two candidates, making the need for a runoff unlikely.

At-large seats many times draw at least three candidates, making the possibility of a runoff more likely.

Lewis said the petition is required to be turned into the city secretary’s office no later than July 5 to allow time for review.

Five percent of the registered voters, or a minimum of 1,400 signatures are needed for the petition to be declared valid, and taken to City Council.

Lewis said changing the charter to plurality vote would create a more level field of candidates.

“When we put this in place in1983, Blacks were the minority. We were protecting the election process for future minorities.

If the petition drive is successful, City Council will vote to order an election with the proposed charter amendment on the ballot, City Attorney Val Tizeno said.

“We cannot amend the city charter without going to voters,” Tizeno said.

If the change is voted in, the two at-large seats would become three-year terms rather than the current two-year terms associated with plurality vote.

“The gist of the whole thing is to allow minorities a reasonable opportunity to elect someone of their choice,” Lewis said.

E-mail: sherry.koonce

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