Council says no to plurality voting change in Port Arthur
Published 4:08 pm Friday, February 7, 2020
Port Arthur councilmembers elected this year and in 2023 at the very least won’t have to worry about re-election after just two years in office.
During a special council meeting Friday, the council voted 7-0 to maintain a majority form of voting for city council positions. The council also unanimously rejected a recommendation for at-large councilmembers to serve up to three two-year terms beginning in May 2023, which would have been a change from the present limit of two three-year terms.
A committee commissioned by the city in 2019 brought to the council a list of recommendations for changes to the charter. This year’s election is scheduled for May 2.
Charlotte Moses, one of Port Arthur’s two at-large councilmembers, made the motion to not change the term limits.
“One year is not enough time to serve on the board and have enough experience,” she said. “It takes a little more than a year. Elections are costly and they take up quite a bit of money, not just for the city but those who are running.”
Former Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., who is campaigning for the District 1 seat, pushed hard for plurality and shorter terms. In plurality voting, the successful candidate for each position only needs to win by one or more votes than the next-highest finisher and would not require runoffs that would cost the city more money to operate. The current majority form of voting requires the winner to obtain 50 percent or more of the votes to avoid a runoff or the top two vote getters to face off in a runoff if neither garners at least 50 percent.
Lewis noted the council is presently made up of all black persons, who represent 38.2 percent of Port Arthur’s population, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Hispanics or Latinos make up 33 percent and, Lewis said, would have a better shot at winning with a plurality election.
“We are the majority now,” said Lewis, who is black. “I’m not going to take part in reverse discrimination. The council doesn’t look like the community.”
District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet voiced his displeasure over Lewis’ comments.
“We have a district that is predominantly Hispanic,” Doucet said. “Municipal, state and federal elections have runoffs. That is who goes with the election process. We’re not going to change because of costs.”
Doucet added none of the citizens has expressed to him problems with majority voting. He also told Lewis using race as a reason for plurality voting is misleading about the council’s intentions.
“I don’t think any member of this council wants to be part of discrimination,” District 2 Councilman Cal Jones said. “I’m 100 percent against changing anything.”
The council also voted unanimously to keep the minimum age for running for city office at 18. Each successful candidate must reside in Port Arthur for at least one year prior to serving on council.