first_imgHOBOKEN – Mayor Ravi Bhalla has vetoed an ordinance for a referendum that might have reinstated municipal run-off elections.The City Council adopted the ordinance in a 7-2 vote to place a referendum on this November’s ballot to allow voters to decide whether to reinstate runoff elections for mayor and council. Council members Emily Jabbour and Jim Doyle voted no.The city did away with runoff elections in 2012. Before that, if no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in an election, the top two vote-getters would participate in a runoff.This past November, six candidates ran for the office of mayor. Bhalla won with just over 32 percent of the vote.In a press release, Bhalla cited reduced voter participation and illegal vote buying as reasons why he vetoed the ordinance.“Presumably, the objective of this legislation is to ensure that any successful candidate for office obtain at least 50 percent of the vote,” said Bhalla. “While this is a worthwhile objective, it needs to be considered together with other important objectives, such as maximizing voter participation and minimizing the likelihood of election results being influenced by improper conduct. The evidence is clear that there is a dramatic reduction in voter turnout associated with December runoff elections, as we saw most recently during four Jersey City runoffs in 2017, which experienced voter turnout reductions ranging from 33.6 percent to 45.4 percent.”“The open secret known by every single member of the City Council and alluded to in multiple local news reports is that there is massive vote-buying that occurs in our elections,” added Bhalla. “Reducing voter turnout through runoffs in December will amplify the power of those vote-buying operations, making our elections less democratic. Therefore, the approach taken by the City Council in achieving this objective is highly misguided and amounts to poor public policy that I cannot support. A far better approach, which I fully support, is to move to instant runoff (also known as ranked choice) voting which is commonplace around the country.” With “instant runoffs,” instead of voting for a single candidate, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes for their second choice added to the totals. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes, or only two candidates remain.Councilman Michael DeFusco, an unsuccessful mayoral candidate who sponsored the ordinance, stated “It is disappointing to see Mayor Bhalla not just deny Hoboken residents the opportunity to have their voices heard in a public referendum on our voting rights, but to also see him spread misinformation and half-truths while doing so. The ordinance he vetoed was passed overwhelmingly by the City Council and it would simply allow our community to collectively decide whether or not to re-institute runoff elections. This issue should be decided by the people, not by entrenched, establishment politicians like Mayor Bhalla who benefit from a flawed current system.”“The mayor cites reduced voter turnout in a recent Jersey City runoff, but he fails to mention that the last time Hoboken held a runoff election for Mayor in 2009 turnout actually increased from the initial election,” said DeFusco. “Meanwhile, he suggests that he supports an instant runoff system that, while certainly worth exploring, is currently not allowable by state law. All of this is meant to distract from the fact that Mayor Bhalla is concerned that re-instituting runoff elections would hurt his chances of re-election as he has not demonstrated the ability to secure majority support or to work collaboratively with his fellow elected officials. This is a deeply cynical ploy that puts politics over our city’s values of transparency and openness, and I will be working with my council colleagues to determine what steps can be taken to ensure that Hoboken residents’ voices are ultimately heard on this important issue.”The full veto statement is available at:

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