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City may nix runoff elections

Rapid City may do away with an ordinance requiring candidates for municipal office to earn more than 50 percent of the vote in order to be elected. The requirement has resulted in nine runoff elections in the past 10 years.

Future candidates for local office may no longer have to compete in runoff elections.

Rapid City is considering repealing an ordinance that requires mayoral and city council candidates to earn more than 50 percent of the vote in order to win an election. When no candidate in a municipal race meets that threshold, the top two proceed to a runoff.

A proposal to repeal the requirement passed Wednesday out of the city Legal and Finance Committee. The Rapid City Council will hold the first reading of the measure at its meeting Monday with a final vote scheduled for Aug. 19.

During Wednesday's meeting, Councilwoman Darla Drew said the proposed ordinance has the potential to save the city both time and money. It costs the city approximately $25,000 in paperwork, administrative fees and staffing expenses to hold a runoff election, according to Finance Director Pauline Sumption. 

What's more, fewer people tend to vote in runoffs than in first-round elections, Councilman Ritchie Nordstrom said Wednesday. Approximately 11 percent of Rapid City's eligible voters participated in the most recent runoff for two positions on the council, according to the Pennington County Auditor's Office. Only about 19 percent of voters, meanwhile, took part in the preceding municipal election on June 4, when five seats on the council and the office of mayor were up for grabs.

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"The low voter turnout overall should be a concern for the citizens of Rapid City," Nordstrom said.

There are two options on how to handle future municipal elections, according to City Attorney Joel Landeen. The ordinance could be repealed and Rapid City could simply defer to state election law, which no longer requires municipal candidates to earn 50 percent of the vote, plus one. Candidates who receive the most votes would simply be declared the winner.

Alternatively, Landeen said in a memo that the ordinance could be amended to lower the current threshold. Council members did not discuss that option Wednesday.

Nine runoff elections have been held in Rapid City since 2009, when it enacted a ordinance that maintains the majority vote requirement South Dakota abandoned. Eight of those were for city council seats and one was for the office of mayor, and none resulted in a different outcome. In each runoff, candidates who won the most votes in the first election went on to win again in the second.

A major runoff in 2011 saw former Mayor Sam Kooiker, then a city councilman, unseat then-mayor Alan Hank. In June, two new members of the city council were elected in runoff contests held in Rapid City's third and fourth electoral wards.

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— Contact Matt Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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